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Landmark Ligonier hospital building transformed into inn, cafe

| Wednesday, Sept. 25, 2013, 9:02 p.m.
Sean Stipp | Trib Total Media
Guest room at the Thistledown at Seger House located at 221 West Main Street in Ligonier.
Sean Stipp | Trib Total Media
Thistledown at Seger House located at 221 West Main Street in Ligonier.

Thistledown at Seger House, which serves as both an inn and cafe, has officially opened at 221 W. Main St. in Ligonier, answering community curiosity regarding the renovations taking place at what was once the landmark McGinnis hospital building.

Both the inn, which is fully booked for Fort Ligonier Days, and the cafe have been well received.

“The response so far has been excellent,” said owner Michelle Gardner, who also owns the Bo-Peep Fine Yarns shop. “It was exactly as we'd hoped.”

Gardner and husband, Adam, who reside in Ligonier with their children, kept an eye on the property when it went on the market.

“I was looking for a new retail space for Bo-Peep,” Gardner said. “We loved the building.”

The couple got to work with immediate renovations last February after reaching a conclusion on what they ought to do with the building.

“We didn't want to chop it into retail spaces; we didn't want to be landlords,” Gardner explained. “The house really kind of dictated what it should be and an inn seemed like the best idea.”

The ambiance of both the inn and cafe is one of relaxed coziness; fireplaces adorn three of the rooms and warm colors permeate the decor. The inn offers eight rooms each with a private bath. The Gardners worked to recreate the feel of the original turn-of-the-century mansion in order to achieve that at-home atmosphere.

“It's not just a place to stay, it is an experience,” said Gardner. Gardner said the woodwork is original as are the stained glass windows in the common area. She said the rooms have an updated, yet classic look.

“It turned out exactly the way as we had hoped,” said Gardner. “It has that old feel but its an updated old feeling. It has a preppy yet vintage look.”

Once renovations to the inn got underway, Gardner began the search for the perfect person to take the managerial helm at the Thistledown Cafe. She found that match in Suzanne Stillwell.

“She's wonderful,” Gardner said.

Stillwell, who jokingly describes herself as a “jack-of-all-trades, master-of-none,” has more than 20 years of managerial experience, getting her start as a kitchen manager in a nursing home. She and her husband moved to Ligonier about 10 years ago to raise their children in a more peaceful environment.

“I always wanted to live in Ligonier,” Stillwell explained. “We honeymooned here.”

Her vision for the cafe was to create a homey environment and offer the community different dining options.

“We want to have healthier choices and a revolving menu,” she explained.

“We pride ourselves in surrounding ourselves with people who enjoy it,” Gardner said.

The cafe, which uses all locally sourced products from venues such as Town's Edge Farm, Rosary Acres and Monroe Coffee that is roasted in Latrobe, offers freshly made breakfasts, salads, sandwiches, soup, and homemade pastries. Each day, the kitchen staff of four gets an early start baking all of the pastry products, which include pies, Italian cookies, donuts, scones and various other items. Some of the signature hot-sellers include avocado egg salad, Paninis and refreshing fruit and herb-flavored water priced at a dollar a glass.

“We're always trying something new,” Stillwell said. “If you are curious about what is on the menu that day, stop in and have a look.”

Though Stillwell says the menu is fairly basic at this point, she promises that it will continue to grow into a fuller array.

“Our winter menu is going to be full of home-style comfort foods,” she said.

She also remains intent on creating more options for gluten-free and vegetarian patrons. She recalls a customer she once had who was vegetarian.

“I would watch her sit with her friends and hardly eat anything because she didn't have many options. I wanted to change that.”

Both staff and customers seem more than satisfied. First time visitors Marge Murphy of Fairfield Township and her friend, Shirley McChesney of Ligonier, enjoyed a leisurely lunch on the cafe's outdoor patio.

“We were very pleased,” Murphy said. “A good first-time experience. I would not hesitate to come back; even the water was very good.”

Cafe employee Janine Hall has no complaints, either.

“We love working for Michelle and Suzanne, we love working with each other. It's a great environment; they encourage us and appreciate what we do.”

Victor Beghini of Ligonier also enjoyed his time at Thistledown.

“It's a good as place for lunch as any,” he said. “The ambiance is super; it's great to sit outside and watch the world go by.”

Cafe hours are 7 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday, 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday and 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Sunday, but with time will remain flexible.

For more information on the inn or the cafe, phone 724-238-4087.

Rebecca Ridinger is a contributing writer for Trib Total Media.

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