by Terry Rogers
After 35 years operating the Milford Tavern, Rich Hoomans made the decision to retire and move to Florida. He placed the business up for sale along with the apartment next door and says he is very pleased that the new owners will be Milfordians that are well known in the community. Chris Fitzgerald and his sister, Erin Spatz, will be the new owners of the well-known Milford establishment. The Fitzgerald family currently owns Park Place Restaurant.
“I have always loved that location,” Fitzgerald said. “Rich has done a great job making it a success, but he’s been in the business 35 years and he wants to get out. His wife just retired, and he has a place in Florida. Someone was going to buy the place, so why not us?”
Fitzgerald and his sister do not plan to make any aesthetic changes to the small taproom. The exposed brickwork and gleaming wooden bar will remain as they are Tavern mainstays. At this time, there is no plan to expand the seating capacity and Fitzgerald plans to leave the adjacent building as an apartment.
“We will make some changes behind the bar that customers will probably never notice,” Fitzgerald said. “There are some things that will make it easier for the bartenders, but that’s about it. We will probably cater Happy Hour there with food from Park Place. One of the biggest changes customers will notice is that we will take credit cards. Right now, the Tavern is cash only and we will definitely change that to make it more convenient for our customers.”
Hoomans is excited that Tavern ownership will be handed off to people who are well-known in Milford. He believes the sale will be good for the town. Hoomans plans to retire to Florida where he will spend his time “fishing and golfing.”
According to Hoomans, the building that currently houses the Milford Tavern was built by Millis Hurley in 1928, initially to house a bank. There was never a bank in the building, but it became more of a bus stop and newspaper stand. In the 1940s, the owners were granted one of 100 licenses that permitted both on and off sales of alcohol. Hoomans continued the original license for about 25 years before changing it to an on-site only license.
At one time, the business was known as the Milford Café and was owned by Carmen Marcone who also owned several sandwich shops in Lewes, Rehoboth and Milford. His father-in-law, Al Hunnicut, managed the bar during Marcone’s ownership, eventually purchasing it from his son-in-law. He owned the taproom until his death when Hoomans purchased it. Although the name was always either Milford Café or Milford Tavern, many older Milfordians knew the bar as “Hunnicut’s” due to the previous ownership.
In June 2003, the business was one of seven destroyed when a fire spread through the entire west side of South Walnut Street in Milford. In addition to the businesses, four families lost their homes when their apartments were destroyed. Immediately after the fire, Hoomans was told that the building would probably need to come down.
“I don’t know what I’m going to do. Let the smoke clear,” Hoomans was quoted as saying in an article in Firehouse magazine. “I guess you could say I got fired from my job and I’m looking for a new one.” Luckily, the building did not have to be completely torn down and Hoomans was able to reopen after extensive remodeling of the iconic taproom. On a shelf above the bar, Hoomans displays items that were recovered after the blaze.