BUCKHANNON – The Deer Park Inn and Rustic Tavern are officially open and taking reservations.
Owner Russ Meeks said the inn opened back up in May and the tavern reopened in early November. Meeks worked at the business 20 years prior and always dreamed of owning it.
“I was a groundskeeper or jack-of-all-trades — I did whatever they needed me to do,” Meeks said of his stint at the inn years ago. “My grandmother owned a nursing home and the previous owner’s father stayed there, that’s how I got to know them. My wife and I were married here in 2003, and ever since I worked here, I always wanted to own it.”
Meeks left Buckhannon and worked for the Great Wolf Lodge for nearly two decades, serving as the corporate chef for the last eight years. After separating from Great Wolf Lodge, he was planning his next endeavor when a fortuitous trip to Buckhannon led him back to Deer Park.
“My wife was used to me traveling a lot — I spent a lot of time on airplanes — and I think she got tired of me being in the same house with her for about a month,” Meeks said. “This was in April 2019, and we lived in Madison, Wisconsin. She said, ‘Why don’t you take the baby and go home for a couple weeks and see the family?”’
When Meeks returned to Buckhannon, he had lunch with his aunt, who used to be involved in real estate, and asked about the Deer Park Inn.
“We were at lunch, and she told me she hadn’t seen anything about it,” Meeks said. “About 45 minutes after that, they put the inn on the market. I came out and looked at the property the next day, and it took a while to get all the funding and things in place, but we were able to make it happen.”
The Rustic Tavern is currently open Saturdays and Sundays for breakfast/brunch, reservations only. Reservations can be made by calling 304-472-3221 or through a link that can be found on their Facebook page.
The menu is all new and draws upon Meeks’ experience as a chef.
“I wasn’t around when [Deer Park] was open as a restaurant,” Meeks said. “When I worked here, it was at the end and they were doing weddings and events. I don’t really know what the menu looked like during that time period, so I doubt it’s the same, because I made our entire menu myself.”
All the food at the Rustic Tavern is made from scratch, and Meeks said his biscuits and gravy are a crowd favorite.
“Everybody thinks my sausage gravy is the best on the planet, so the sausage gravy and biscuits is definitely a big hit,” Meeks said. “There are some great things on the menu, like eggs benedict, and we make our own corned beef hash. Everything on the menu is made from scratch.”
Meeks hopes to eventually serve dinner in the future, but the menu will likely be small and based on fresh, local ingredients.
“It’s good to keep things fresh,” he said. “It gives me the ability to use seasonal, local products, whenever they’re available, which means the menu may change weekly, it may change monthly — it just depends on the season and what’s available.”
The inn is also available for parties and gatherings, on top of the five available guest rooms.
“Some folks come here just to get away for a quiet weekend; some folks come and really never leave the inn,” Meeks said. “Some folks are coming to area events at the college, and we had a few folks for the Veterans Day Parade. In the summer months, we had people out of Virginia who just came to get away from life for a couple days. It’s just a quiet place to hang out.”
Meeks said a local inn offers certain amenities a hotel chain can’t replicate.
“You get a much higher level of service with us than you would anyplace else,” he said. “I think the great breakfast we offer is another plus. If you stay at a one of those chain hotels, there’s a lot of microwave products — it’s just not the same. Everything here is from scratch, and there’s a lot more personalized service.”