Sadly, Mill Race Inn Announces Closing, Serves Final Meal Sunday
Standing at Geneva’s gateway for 77 years, the former blacksmith shop and grist mill will serve its last dinner as the challenging economy takes its toll.
It was evident something was very wrong. Hostess Natalie Gridley just stood there with tears in her eyes, and the sound of sniffles was everywhere.
The Mill Race Inn, a Geneva icon since 1933, will close its doors for good this Sunday after serving dinner for the last time.
Formerly a blacksmith shop, The Mill Race Inn has been the setting for family gatherings, weddings, and Sunday brunches for generations with its panoramic views of the Fox River from almost every seat in the house.
With cottage-like rooms, most with a fireplace and views of the river, Mill Race was a popular place for families and quiet dates, offering a menu of fine dining that included roast prime rib of beef, chicken marsala, and pan-seared breast of duck. The Gazebo, open in warmer months, offered a place to share a drink and lighter fare while watching the geese and ducks beg for food.
Owner Charlie Roumeliotis could hardly get the words out as he read from a prepared statement that began, “It is with much sadness and deep regret,” in announcing the closing.
“This is a beautiful place; a beautiful community,” he said hesitatingly. “It’s a sign of the times, I guess. Very sad.”
Roumeliotis and his son George assumed management in 2004 after spending nearly 26 years operating Horwath’s Restaurant on North Harlem Avenue in Elmwood Park. That venue had a dedicated clientele as well, and was similarly part of the fabric of the community.
Server Moire Brennan, like Gridley, has worked at Mill Race for seven years and considers everyone there to be family.
“I loved coming to work every day,” she said. “It was like a vacation. I love my boss.”
As she added, “we’re family,” she broke down, again, in tears. Brennan had brain surgery a few years ago, and said she's thankful her boss hired her back.
Roumeliotis started making calls to some of the regulars, like the Lions Club and Rotary Club, which have been meeting weekly at the restaurant for years.
“A real charm is going away in Geneva,” said Gordie Hard, owner of Valley Insurance Agency and a member and past president of both Geneva Rotary and the Chamber of Commerce. “If you think about it, it’s the most successful restaurant over all these years up and down the river.”
Mayor Kevin Burns said the decision to close was “clearly a very personal decision,” and that he respected the Roumeliotis family for making such a difficult choice.
“Generations of people from Geneva and elsewhere fondly remember The Mill Race Inn where they had their wedding reception, special anniversaries, birthdays, you name it,” Burns said. “Now as that building closes its doors, memories become fresher, perhaps more melancholy and even nostalgic.”
Unfortunately, the lack of weddings and other large parties appear to have contributed to the decision to close. Roumeliotis said that while the restaurant did well in the summer months, the lack of bookings for Christmas parties and other larger events left him with no choice.
The restaurant also faced some hardships the last few years with two massive floods that forced Roumeliotis to close once for 12 days and another for a week. The last flood forced the permanent closing of the Mill Grill on the lower level.
The Mill Race employs 45 people, many of whom have worked there for many years.
Roumeliotis said he waited until Thursday to tell employees, whom he considers family, “because I still was hoping something; that I could think of something.” His voice trailed off.
“It breaks my heart.”