by Robert DiGioia
John Harris, owner of the White Horse Country Pub and Restaurant in New Preston, can always be counted on for dialog as delightful and deli- cious as his kitchen offerings. The exchange below is no exception.
Where did the White Horse name come from?
Back in 2008, we had friends living in Washington, CT, and my wife Lisa said “let’s move up there.” We were in West- port at the time; I was devel- oping houses in Greenwich. A commercial property came up for sale, the former Marble Dale Pub. Let’s see if we can do something with this. My wife came up with the idea of doing a Hollywood, idealistic version of an English pub. The white horse is a mythological symbol of England and hope... the hero always rides a white horse. I found a sign from an old pub in Mayfair, England, dating back to the 1860s; it’s above our fireplace. We opened in 2009.
Your background, pre-White Horse?
I went to the University of England, got a hotel management degree. Traveled the world and managed hotels in Bermuda, Bahrain, East Af- rica. Ended up running a marketing company in America. Got into building development. My wife’s from Beverly Hills and she was big in movies; a former Hollywood producer andwriter. She’s a highly creative influence on the restaurant, responsible for all the decor, which she collected traveling around Europe, and new menu items.
Tell us about your famous guests.
From the get-go, we’ve been a magnet for ce- lebrities. Sean Connery would visit while visit- ing his grandchildren at one of the local private schools. He exclaimed the White Horse was one of the best pubs he’d been to in America. Dustin Hoffman, Daniel Day-Lewis, Diane Sawyer, Ralph Lauren, Candice Bergen, Chris- tine Baranski, Mia Farrow, Ethan Hawke, Milos Forman, Stephen Colbert. Many have homes in Litchfield County, and we give them their pri- vacy. What’s nice is that on any given day in the parking lot, you’ve got a motorbike next to a Lamborghini and a rusty pick-up and a Rolls- Royce. A guy at the bar who just flew in on his
Lear jet sitting next to a plumber. It’s a great melting pot.
There are quite a few artifacts about the place.
The White Horse has evolved into a museum
about 4,000 square feet. The trick is getting ev- eryone on the same page. We’re in the hospitali- ty business, so I hire authentic people-pleasers, people who genuinely care about people. Our golden rule. The kitchen embraces the same
philosophy; we get a lot of our food from area farms. Each customer has made a decision to come to us, and they deserve our very best foot forward, always, from the moment they’re greeted at the door to the moment we say good night. We’re in the happiness business, too; nothing more, nothing less. We’re very fortunate... we have a wonderful local base of customers as well as those travelers from abroad who pass through. Diners drive 60-90 minutes to see us, from New York, Massa- chusetts.
What can we expect for the holidays and in 2021?
We prepared 200 24 lb. tur- keys for Thanksgiving. And
Christmas Eve is always very busy. Every year we give back to the community by creating an ornament with Woodbury Pewter (this year is a heart). The proceeds from the sale of the ornaments go to the Connecticut Food Bank. Over the years we’ve raised enough money for 100,000 meals...this year we hope to raise enough for another 12,000.
Parties...we’ve cut way back. Since Covid, we’ve been doing a huge take-out business. Other than outdoor dining, back in March I wanted to find the safest way to serve the pub- lic and keep our staff healthy...we’ve distanced our tables. This past summer was a record year for outdoor dining. I purchased expensive mo- lecular air scrubbers, the kind they use on the NASA space station. We’ve installed three; they kill any airborne virus. Governor Lamont visited us and commented he used the same in his Greenwich home. Gloves, masks of course. A vaccine is on the horizon, late Spring, early Summer. Like the white horse on the hill, bringing hope.
wHiTE HORSE COUNTRY PUB & RESTaURaNT
258 New Milford TurNpike New presToN, CT 06777 860-868-1496 wHiTeHorseCouNTrYpuB.CoM
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with a restaurant in it (laughs)! I’ve had schol- ars from Yale come up to examine some of the “exhibits.” We’ve got a royal pardon from Queen Elizabeth I; a 2,300-year-old bronze Celtic finger ring; a document from Henry III dated 1250. One of my favorites is a check from Charles Dickens for 160 bottles of port, made out to the Lord Mayor of London (no won- der he wrote two treatises on port’s medicinal value!). A 1920 Indian motorcycle behind the bar. A Beatles guitar. A signed Christmas card from Martin Luther King. A signed portrait of Gandhi.
What’s Plow To Plate?
The chief nutritionist from New Milford hos- pital came to dine with us, and he coined the phrase. He helped to modify the menu, make it more healthful and community-based. We have a large menu with an international influ- ence. The English is definitely woven in; Shep- herd’s Pie, etc. African and French, too.
You’ve been a Connecticut Magazine Best Res- taurant winner for years. The secret?
Continual training. We have weekly meetings with our staff of 50 (which swells to 70 in the summer); we’re always asking how to make things better. We’re a good-sized restaurant,