Hotel handoff

Fuhs sells Hillside Inn;
new owner to re-open restaurant

Don Ward

(February 2005) – The Hillside Inn has entered yet another phase of its long history with the December sale by previous owner Jerry Fuhs to hotel entrepreneur Gary Zaveri of Knoxville, Tenn. The terms were not disclosed.

Hillside Inn

Photo by Don Ward

Hillside Inn was sold in December to
Gary Zaveri of Knoxville, Tenn.

Madison residents A.J. and Niki Mistry, who were previously employed by Fuhs at the Hillside Inn, have been hired to manage the hotel for Zaveri. The restaurant that Fuhs opened there last summer has been temporarily closed. But Zaveri and the Mistrys have negotiated a lease agreement with Earnest and Suzanne Mathis of Madison, who plan to re-open the restaurant in February.
A.J. Mistry said the restaurant will offer “affordable fine dining” and also be available for private parties, banquets and catering. The Mathis plan to operate the restaurant with their daughters, Emily Barkemeyer and Vicki Kimberlin, and Suzanne’s mother, Vicki Collins. All have food service background.
Earnest Mathis, the chef, has had 20 years of experience, most recently managing the Columbia, in Columbia City, Ind., where he met his wife 12 years ago. The Mathis family has lived in Madison for 11 years. Suzanne is now employed at the Madison State Hospital, but 20 years ago she was the chef manager of a 31/2-star restaurant named The Cellar in New Albany, Ind.
Collins is a graduate of Prosser Vocational School in New Albany. Kimberlin will serve as the banquet manager and event planner for the Hillside Inn Restaurant. Barkemeyer has worked for Mundt’s Candies and will serve as a liaison between the Hillside Inn Restaurant and Mundts, bringing their famous fish candy and hand-dipped chocolates into the restaurant for purchase by patrons.
“We are thrilled to be re-opening one of the most beautiful landmarks in southern Indiana,” said Suzanne Mathis. “This is a family owned and operated restaurant. We hope to gain the attention of locals and tourists alike with a menu that offers something for everyone. Customers will appreciate having more selections to choose from on and off the menu.”

Jerry Fuhs

Jerry Fuhs

Fuhs bought the 38-year-old Hillside Inn for $480,000 at a bankruptcy auction in November 1999. Over the next year, he supervised an extensive renovation of the building, totally remodeling the 30 rooms. The hotel’s boutique-style rooms include riverview rooms, deluxe whirpool suites, and standard rooms.
The restaurant was the last piece of the project that he completed, just last year. Fuhs had originally sought to lease the restaurant but finally decided to operate it with his own staff. He had not finished renovating the bar area, which is just off the main dining room, when the property sold.
Former general manager Gina Porter decided the leave the Hillside Inn just before the sale was announced. She now resides with her husband in Florence, Ky.
Soon after buying the Hillside Inn, Fuhs in April 2001 bought the Old Cotton Mill, also known as the Meese building, that sits along the riverfront in downtown Madison. Many in the community had hoped he would develop the property, but he now has that 80,000-square-foot property listed for sale with an asking price of $650,000. The property sits on six acres and, together with all out buildings, covers nearly 200,000 square feet, said previous owner Buddy Waller.
Waller had used the former Meese site for storing equipment for his business, Waller’s Meter Inc. After selling the property to Fuhs, Waller bought and moved his business into the former K-Mart building on the Madison hilltop.
Contacted by telephone at his office in Jasper, Fuhs said he was pulling his money out of Madison to focus his attention and investments on Dubois, Davis, Orange and Spencer counties, all located closer to his home in French Lick.
“We love restoring old buildings and we saw the Hillside Inn as a great project that we just loved,” Fuhs said. “I think the Meese building will be a great project for the downtown. But we feel it is better suited for an owner-operator who is not 150 miles away.”
Fuhs said he had “mixed feelings” about pulling his investment out of Madison, adding, “That’s not to say we wouldn’t return there someday. But as a small company, we’ve just got to prioritize our projects.”
The future casino to be situated in French Lick perhaps also swayed his decision to sell his Madison properties. Fuhs sits on the newly formed Historic Hotels Preservation Commission that was created by the Orange County casino legislation to help decide where future revenues are spent.
Fuhs owns Beechwood Inn and leases the restaurant and bed and breakfast located inside. The building sits on a bluff overlooking French Lick. He also owns several other tourism related properties, including Wilstem Guest Ranch near French Lick, the Santa Claus Lodge in Santa Claus, Ind., and the Gasthof Amish Restaurant in Montgomery, Ind. He said he is currently involved in a project to expand the Santa Claus Lodge from 140 to 191 rooms this year, while adding an exterior swimming pool and indoor water park, to be available to hotel guests only year-round. He also is exploring a “major investment opportunity” in French Lick, he said.
Fuhs also is a partner in a project to renovate the Old Jasper Cabinet Co., located in downtown Jasper, into a hotel-convention center type facility that stands to benefit from a larger redevelopment effort going on in the area.
Madison Mayor Al Huntington said he was sorry to see Fuhs backing off his plans for investing in Madison. But he added, “I know Jerry and Caroline Fuhs love Madison, and we have them to thank for renovating Hillside Inn and making Madison a better place.”
Huntington said he has entertained a variety of ideas from other investors who have expressed interest in the Meese property. “We are pushing for someone to buy it who has an interest in building a hotel complex or condominium or convention center-type project for what we consider to be a choice property on the riverfront.”

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