After 37 years of running the restaurant and inn, owners David and Patricia O’Connell have agreed to sell the property to their friends and neighbors, Holly Safford Weilbrenner and Charles Weilbrenner of Washington Street.
On Monday, Duxbury selectmen approved the trans- fer of the liquor license and common victualler’s license to Modern Family Associates, which will be doing business as the Winsor House Inn and Restaurant. Safford’s son, Alex Marconi, is listed as the manager.
Safford has a background in catering. She began The Catered Affair in Hingham 34 years ago and now her sons, Alex and Andrew Marconi, own the business. Safford will become the new owner of the Winsor House on May 20 and then the restaurant will close for a couple of weeks for renovations and maintenance with the goal of re-opening around June 15.
When asked what changes she plans to make, Safford an- swered: “Not very many.”
“Whatever we’re going to do is cosmetic. We want to maintain the integrity and charm of the building that we all love and appreciate,” she said.
However, Safford acknowledges that there is a lot to do on both the exterior, which has rot that must be addressed, and on the interior; she wants to update the kitchen and spruce up the interior in addition to bringing some items, such as electrical fixtures, up to code.
She also plans to reopen the front dining room to patrons and may even have them walk into the restaurant through the front door. The main dining room has been closed during regular restaurant hours, open only for functions.
Safford said the idea to take over the Winsor House came about when her sons began discussing other business opportunities for the Catered Affair that could be as successful as their operation at the Boston Public Library. There they have a contract to cater functions and also to run a small restaurant and café.
“We discussed it and thought we could do some great things there,” said Safford of the Winsor House. “We never expected David to take our offer.”
O’Connell has been talking about selling the Winsor House for many years but he said just as he was getting ready to put the property on the market this year, “they approached me out of the blue. I was getting ready to list it.” He said his asking price was around $2.25 million but he declined to disclose the actual purchase price.
Negotiations between the O’Connells and the Weilbrenners began in January and then O’Connell started to get other people “coming out of the woodwork” offering to buy the Winsor House. He said he received two other offers, but he signed a purchase and sales agreement with the Weilbrenners in early April. Meanwhile, rumors began flying. Safford said they and the O’Connells did not want to make the purchase public until they had a signed deal.
O’Connell is happy to have Safford and her family take over: “It worked out well. She knows the place and she knows the town. She’s been here for a long time, and she has a successful business.”
However, for O’Connell, leaving the Winsor House will be bittersweet, after having invested so many years of his life there. But, he said, the time is right to go.
“It’s going to be difficult leaving,” he said. “It will be charged emotionally. We’ve been here 37 years. We’ve raised children in that bar downstairs. That was their living room. It’s going to be hard because I like what I do. But it’s time for us to go. We’re basically out of gas.”
Safford acknowledged that there is a delicate balance she must undertake to improve the restaurant and gain more business, while staying true to what patrons love about the Winsor House, namely the friendly English-style pub atmosphere with its cheerful, cozy fireplace. While she thinks of the Winsor House as “Duxbury’s ‘Cheers’,” she also has a vision for where she wants to take it.
“I love the idea of this restaurant being what it can be.Ourgoalistomakeita destination restaurant,” said Safford. “We have a passion for excellence. There aren’t a lot of great restaurants from Braintree to the canal. There are a lot of places to eat but not to dine. We want to be a place to dine.”
Safford plans to continue offering updated New England fare at the Winsor House and is currently looking for a chef and a general manager. She also plans to continue some of the restaurant’s best traditions.
“People come to a beautiful seacoast town and they want New England fare,” said Safford. “I don’t see any Tex Mex on the menu. No Italian food. But the Winsor burger will not go away.”
Safford wants to maintain the Winsor House’s iconic status in Duxbury: “It means a lot to us. It’s an important part of the community.”