BELLEFONTE — When brothers Chris and Jonathan Virgilio bought the Gamble Mill with plans to renovate and bring business back to the historic building, they knew it was going to be a lot of work, but maybe not this much.
The location has sat empty for five years, and when they started cleaning out the space they soon hauled away 11 40-yard trash bins of things that they don’t need. Jonathan Virgilio said he had projected using four bins, but kept having to call to have more placed on the property.“It is a 15,000-square-foot property, and it sat for a long time,” said Jonathon Virgilio. “There were a lot of valuables and a lot of junk.”
But after the year-long process of acquiring the property on 160 Dunlap St., and the months-long demolition and cleanup process, the brothers and business partners are ready to start with ambitious renovations that look to keep the original feel of the historic building while making necessary upgrades. They hope to be ready to have a restaurant and pub, short-term suites and a retail space up and running at the mill by fall.
“We hope to start renovation in March and then finish them up by fall,” said Virgilio. “That is the timeline. We have things lined up; what has kind of helped is the fact that we have been sitting on this for a year and half, so we do have contractors ready and sitting on the side ready to go with this. It’s maybe a little ambitious, but I figure, hey, why not? We’ll see.”
Virgilio spoke about the renovations during a Bellefonte Intervalley Chamber of Commerce luncheon on Jan 24. He said they have a lot of work yet to do.
“It needs a lot of love. To be honest, it has been super-exciting and super-nerve-racking and humbling. We feel a lot of responsibility to do this right,” said Virgilio. “It pretty much needs to be completely redone. So it will be a complete revamp, but we are going to keep all of the historical components.”
Virgilio said he moved to the area right when the Gamble Mill closed five years ago and he understands that it left a hole in the dining scene in Bellefonte.
“What I’ve heard most that people miss is that old pub area,” he said. “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.”
The Virgilios plan to have an outside business operator manage the restaurant and pub spaces while they will have a say in the type of fare that is served and the design of the space. Jonathan Virgilio said he expects to announce the business manager soon.
Virgilio said that after speaking with the prior brewer who operated at the Gamble Mill, the brothers decided that a brewery on site is not a good use of the space. They are open to using the pub as a tasting room for an outside brewery, but no beer will be brewed on the premises. Besides that, the dining space will have a similar feel to the old place.
“We don’t want anything too eclectic to be done. I would say it will be pretty similar to how you guys remember it, especially the pub area; we want to keep that as nostalgic as possible,” he said.
“I would love to see it be the type of restaurant to reach every type of person,” Virgilio said. The restaurant will probably have a pared-down menu with balance, and he joked that, “no it won’t be another pizza place.”
The brothers plan to open up the entrance area to its original grandeur by removing a wall that blocked of part of the space.
The lobby will serve as the entrance to the pub, restaurant and two other retail spaces.
In the past the restaurant and brewpub were not enough to keep the Gamble Mill afloat, Virgilio said, and so that is why they plan to add the other business components to the location.
“My brother and I, we thought through this and we thought what is another way that we can utilize all 15,000 square feet of this building and then make it so, to be honest with you, that we don’t go bankrupt,” said Virgilio. “One of the things we thought was (having) short-term-stay suites in the upper three floors.”
The building will have two one-bedroom suites, four two-bedroom suites and two three-bedroom suites; they will not be in direct competition with the upcoming nearby boutique hotel on the Bellefonte waterfront property, he said. The rooms will have as much of the exposed brick as possible. The brothers will run the hotel space.
And lastly, after considering the rich history of the space, Virgilio said he had thought about considering a different name for the mill, but he decided to stick with the name that so many already know it by, the Gamble Mill.
“There are so many good memories; I don’t want to disrupt that,” he said.