January 17, 2013
New life for Briggs Hall
Caterer converts former funeral home into banquet hall
HOMER — Randall Lewis hopes to reconnect the community with the beauty of Briggs Hall after setting up his catering business at the North Main Street building in December and opening The Manor at Briggs Hall.
Lewis is repurposing the former Briggs-Hall Memorial Home to create a banquet facility.
Lewis purchased Linani’s Inc., a bakery on North Main Street in 1997 and then moved the business to the Olde Homer House on South Main Street for about eight years.
Over the years, catering became the main focus of the business.
“Bakery work now is secondary,” said Lewis, who runs the business alone.
Lewis said he never received formal culinary training.
“My training has been ongoing,” said Lewis, who has been catering for 15 years. “It’s just been an evolving process.”
“I’m not going ‘wham’ and ‘bam’” Lewis quipped, adding he cooks good, wholesome, family-style food.
Linani’s catering took up temporary residence at the Center for the Arts of Homer as Briggs Hall was renovated.
Before buying Linani’s, Lewis worked searching for property titles and abstracts for banks and attorneys, he said.
But he was tired of commuting from Homer to Syracuse and was missing out on time with his wife, Audrey, and two now-grown children, Danielle and Stephanie.
“I was missing out on the community itself,” Lewis said.
Lewis and his wife settled in Homer in 1982 after attending SUNY Cortland.
“I had done this (catering) before, working in hotels,” said Lewis, who said making such a drastic career change was in keeping with his personality as an “odd duck.”
Lewis heard that Linani’s was for sale at a Homer village meeting about revitalizing the downtown area and decided to buy it.
When Lewis was looking for his business’ next permanent home, he was attracted to the unique opportunities available at the manor.
“If I was going to go through and make an investment in something, I wanted it to be a little more special,” Lewis said. “When I came out and looked at it, I really felt that this would have been a market niche.
“The beauty of this building is, the atmosphere is here, it’s built in,” Lewis said.
A spiral staircase provides picture moments for brides and prom girls, Lewis said, as does the beautiful front door.
The original electrified gas chandeliers still hang from the ceilings of the manor, adding ambiance. The building can host groups as small as six and as large as 99, Lewis said.
“We hope to be more involved in the community,” Lewis said, noting that he currently hosts a Rotary Club breakfast and is open to family dinners and book clubs.
Every Thursday, the manor will host a public dinner, starting Jan. 31, he said, and special dinners for Mother’s Day and Valentine’s Day are also planned.
Margaret Fragnoli, who owns Homer Men and Boys Store with her husband, Roland, and their children, thought the revitalization of Briggs Hall would benefit downtown Homer.
“It’s an asset,” said Fragnoli, “and Homer has really come a long way in the last few years as far as filling our shops. Without a doubt, we’ve come a long way.”
Homer Men and Boys Store was founded by Roland “Frog” Fragnoli 63 years ago. Margaret Fragnoli thought the convenience of having a banquet hall close at hand would be desirable as people, especially the elderly, feel inconvenienced by long drives to other facilities.
William Sherman, credited with making the first mass-produced nails in New York, built the manor in 1825.
The home was then used as a funeral parlor from the 1880s until 2011.
Renovations were needed to bring the building into compliance with codes and to transform the space into a banquet facility, Lewis said.
“It was pretty much a lot of disrepair,” he said.
The renovations started in September and Lewis held his first event in the space Dec. 1. There are still some small projects left to do at the manor, such as landscaping and staining a door, he said. When the building was used as a funeral home, bodies were kept in the buildings behind the mansion, Lewis said, but the kitchen had been converted into a mortuary.
“That’s all been changed,” Lewis said, including the plumbing.
“The challenge is really just bringing a building that’s 200 years old up to code,” he said.
Lewis leases the building and can’t say for sure how much was invested in renovations at the manor between the owner, Tom Nierderhofer of Homer, grant money and himself.
“It’s been a fair amount of money, though,” said Lewis.
Lewis asked Fragnoli in for a tour of the manor when he spotted her out for a walk with her daughter, Fragnoli said.
“They’ve done a beautiful job,” said Fragnoli, adding that the business is an enhancement to Homer’s downtown.
“It’s nice to look out and see Homer really alive, really,” Fragnoli said.
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