JOHNSTOWN — In 2005 Kim Henck was looking for a way to motivate his daughter Megan Saltsman, a pastry chef with a degree from the culinary institute of America, to quit her job working for the Marriott Marco Island in Florida and return home.
Henck himself needed a new job. He had worked for years as a production control manager at the Vinyl Pressing plant for MCA/Universal in Gloversville, but when the plant closed in 2005, he decided to give his daughter a reason to come home and fulfill his lifelong interest in cooking by purchasing the Union Hall Inn Restaurant.
"I told her, if she wanted to come up, we'd get into the restaurant business," Henck said.
The building, located at 2 Union Place, Johnstown, has been in and out of the inn, tavern and restaurant businesses for more than 200 years.
It was built by Captain Jean Batiste Vaumane de Fon Claire, a former officer in the French Army under French King Louis XVI.
Henck said he isn't sure who is the most famous person ever to eat at Union Hall. He said some people have told him they think George Washington may have eaten there, but he can't prove it, and Washington died in 1799, so he wouldn't have had much time to do so. Union Hall was known as the favorite Inn of Joseph Bonaparte, brother of Napoleon.
The Union Hall Inn owner Kim Henck along with his wife and their grandchildren.
Henck said famous hunter and American Revolution soldier Nicholas Stoner is said to have killed a Native American in the basement of the building, because he believed the Indian had killed his father.
"I have articles describing when Nick Stoner killed the Indian in the basement," Henck said.
The basement was where the original bar was located, to keep it away from the ladies in the parlor section of the tavern. The building is referred to as a "resort" of Stoner on the New York state historic placard placed in front of it by the State Education Department in 1935.
Henck said the building sometimes attracts "ghost hunters" and whether or not they find any enchanted spirits, they can find on the top shelf of Union Hall's bar liquid spirits from distilleries in operation since 1798 or earlier.
"It's amazing how many distilleries have been around for several hundred years," he said.
Henck said he believes Union Hall has operated continuously as a restaurant, with some relatively brief interruptions, since about 1940. After he purchased it from former owner Jim Rose, he set about learning how to operate a restaurant. He said he'd always had an interest in cooking since growing up in Africa, the son of missionaries. He said his parents were always so busy, the task of cooking often fell to him.
"If we wanted anything special made in the kitchen, it was always my job to do it. That's been my job since I was five or six years old," he said.
He said while some people appreciate the 17th-century architecture of the building, with its beams and hand hued wood, he thinks most of his customers come for the contemporary American cuisine he serves.
"It runs from basic steaks, to seafood Napoleon and chicken piccata,” he said. “We have a little bit of everything on the menu—shrimp cocktail, crab cakes.”
"We do a maple bourbon glazed salmon,” Henck said. “We run from tavern food, which is like burgers and fried haddock sandwiches, to delmonico steak, which is a full dinner, with a salad or soup, and we always offer a corn fritter—that's to anybody who orders a dinner or a tavern meal."
He said he was able to transfer some of his skills in the record manufacturing business to operating the restaurant, in terms of inventory and planning for a high number of customers, such as the one hundred or so he was preparing to feed on Easter Sunday.
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"You know you're going to be busy lining up what you need to get in and get the process, so it's ready to go,” Henck said. “Those things are the same, just different components."
Henck said his daughter, Megan, handles all of the desserts, including her signature flourless chocolate cake, which is always on the menu.
Henck said under his tenure as owner Union Hall Inn Restaurant has become known for its theme nights, where the menu will reflect a theme like French or Mexican cuisine.