York Daily Record: Conewago Inn Thanksgiving Tradition
Conewago Inn’s Thanksgiving buffet started with customer demand, built into a tradition
Geoff Morrow, York Daily Record Published 7:06 p.m. ET Nov. 22, 2018 | Updated 8:42 a.m. ET Nov. 23, 2018
My mom can’t recall the specifics, but I’m convinced our family went the spaghetti route for a couple of Thanksgivings last decade.
There’s no Italian blood (that we know of) among the Morrows, but this wouldn’t have been a strange development for a few reasons: 1. Spaghetti is a WHOLE lot easier to prep than traditional Thanksgiving fare; 2. Spaghetti is delicious; 3. My smallish family doesn’t exactly abide by turkey traditions.
Why does this matter?
Well, it proves it’s OK to experiment.
And this week, a year after my parents first hopped on board, I joined in the newest Thanksgiving Day festivity: Going all in on The Conewago Inn’s annual holiday buffet.
There are those among us who frown upon any “non-essential” employees being forced to work on major holidays like Thanksgiving, and I respect that.
But what I observed on Thursday at The Conewago Inn in Conewago Township, York County, and I’m sure was copied at various other restaurants open for business on this family-oriented holiday, is there’s certainly a market for it.
Conewago Inn owners Tom and Sharon “Sam” Roberts, whose Thanksgiving buffet tradition started via customer demand nearly a decade ago, certainly take their role seriously.
“What we always impress upon our servers is you have to understand that, while we appreciate the sacrifice, we want smiles on their faces,” Tom Roberts said after the second of five specifically scheduled buffet seatings on Thursday.
“These people have entrusted you with a very important family celebration. You’ve got to be very welcoming, like family, because they’ve trusted you. You look out there, and you’ll see tables of 12 people, with grandparents, parents. So we take it very seriously.”
It was Sam Roberts’ idea several years back to break the Thanksgiving Day buffets into timed sessions, so to speak.
This year, for example, there were brunch-style buffets from 10-11:30 a.m. and from noon-1:30 p.m., then more dinner-style buffets from 2-3:30, 4-5:30 and 6-7:30. While both varieties include a lot of traditional Turkey Day favorites, the former features some breakfast options, and the latter more seafood options.
As a longtime vegetarian, I’m automatically suspicious of my options at any restaurant that specializes in meats and/or seafoods, and The Conewago Inn has long delighted customers with its seafood fare.
Yet I had no problems whatsoever filling at least three plates with delicious food, starting with rolls and salads, moving onto eggs and potatoes, then capping off with some pasta, corn and more potatoes. Oh, and of course, exclamation-pointing with several desserts like creme brulee and bread pudding.
My parents, Tom and Sue, who live in Newberry Township, knew exactly what they were getting based on last year’s visit. And my always-on-the-ball father has already scheduled reservations for next year. He barely put his fork down before he was tracking down an employee to guarantee his spot in 2019.
Tom and Sam Roberts, who live in Asbury Pointe in Mount Wolf, scattered 435 reservations among the five different seatings on Thursday, as demand grows every year, he said.
“Once you hook ’em, it becomes a tradition,” he said, adding that they run similar buffet-style events on Easter and Mother’s Day.
In 2002, the couple purchased the building that dates to the 1800s and sits along York Haven Road outside of Manchester near the Conewago Creek.
It had been closed for years, the building in awful shape, Tom Roberts said.
While Sam had been bartending in York since 1977, Tom always had his foot in the industry. His first business was Mon’s Cafe in downtown York, and he later parlayed a $500 investment in another operation in Dallastown into a $14 million business, allowing him to retire to the Florida Keys, he said.
However, circumstance brought him back, and with other family in the business — their son, John Marks, is the Inn’s executive chef, and their daughter is a longtime server — the Roberts clan found itself back in York County restaurant business.
“In travels, I saw this place, and it just tripped a trigger,” Tom Roberts said.
And thus began their own new family tradition.