BELLEFONTE — After almost five years traveling around Centre County in his World’s Fare Catering food truck, long-time chef Michael Marx is ready to settle down in a stationary kitchen again, and he will be doing it in the renovated Gamble Mill.
“I loved the food truck, and all the people I met through it, but I missed putting food on plates,” said Marx.
“I love stopping by tables and talking to people. … I said I wasn’t going to go back, but I guess it was not out of my system yet.”
Marx said he is excited about the potential of the Gamble Mill and he hopes to be up and rolling this winter in the historic property. Brothers Chris and Jonathon Virgilio officially bought the building in June 2019 and began renovating this spring before the pandemic shutdown.
Originally, their plans were to open this fall, but the events surrounding the coronavirus put a few things on hold for a few months.
Marx is now hoping to be in the kitchen by December, if things go smoothly.
In January, Jonathon Virgilio said he moved to the area right around the time the Gamble Mill closed five years ago.
“What I’ve heard most that people miss is that old pub area,” he said at the time. “In fact, I think there were three people who mentioned that to me here today … and obviously the restaurant and fine-dining piece. ... My brother and I, we really want to bring back the restaurant, with that being the focal point of everything and kind of the pulse of the community, so we kind of developed a plan around that.”
Virgilio said at the time they planned to have someone else run the restaurant because that was not something they have experience in. Then in came Marx, who has an extensive history in the restaurant industry. He was tabbed to run the restaurant on the second-floor dining area of the mill.
After 15 years overseeing three different restaurants in the Baltimore area — with Mexican and barbecue themes — Marx and his family moved back to his wife’s hometown here in Centre County and he started his popular food truck, which features locally sourced foods in a global culinary format.
Marx said he has worked in the food industry basically his whole life, beginning in his hometown of San Diego, and traveling as far away as France, minus a brief stint in advertising, which left him missing the creative freedoms of working in the kitchen.
While setting up shop at farmers markets in his food truck over the past few years, he has made connections with many local farmers.
“I have never been in a situation where I have had so many resources available — the small farms, the husband and wife farms — that to me is exciting,” said Marx. “It is going to be fun to really do local, not just preach about it, but really do local.”
He said he is excited to take all his experiences from around the culinary world and mix them with the local connections he has made to continue in the “global food sourced locally” concept at the Gamble Mill.
As crews work to renovate the old Gamble Mill space that has now sat five years between owners, Marx is busy planning his kitchen and helping design the restaurant space, while still getting his food truck out to farmers markets and his customers. He expects the restaurant to have a cozy atmosphere that will match the history of the building.
Other plans for the historic building include a potential tasting room for an outside brewery in the downstairs pub space, retail space and suites-style hotel rooms that will be run by the Virgilio brothers.
Marx is still working on the name for the restaurant, but said he is planning a global menu with around 10 items that will change seasonally, complemented with another eight to 10 menu items that will change bi-weekly, allowing him to let his creativity come out.
A difficulty with the Gamble Mill is the small space of the kitchen, said Marx, but he has been working in a tight space for the past few years so he knows how to adapt. The limited storage space in the mill will lend itself to the smaller, locally sourced food that he plans to serve.
Marx said he is looking forward to being a part of something special that is brewing in Bellefonte, with the upcoming waterfront hotel adding to the vibrancy of the area.
“I was in a place, when I opened in the inner-harbor of Baltimore, that was really coming back. I opened up in a neighborhood that was pretty much forgotten for years and then became the spot to hang out,” said Marx. “So the fact that Bellefonte is growing like it is, to be on the ground floor of a part of that is awesome.”