2019 valley favorites



By Rebecca J. Barnabi

Just as the television series “Cheers” ended its 11-year run in 1993, a restaurant in downtown Staunton was celebrating its first anniversary in business, and beginning a tradition of emulating the same friendly atmosphere as the fictional bar. “It’s kind of like everybody knows your name kind of thing,” said co-owner and General Manager Terry Holmes, “and that’s the way I wanted it to be.” Mill Street Grill was voted no. 1 Brunch Place, no. 1 Dinner Place, no. 1 Place for Ribs and no. 1 Overall Restaurant in The News Virginian’s Valley Favorites for 2019. Terry Holmes and Ron Bishop opened Mill Street Grill at 1 Mill St. in Staunton more than 27 years ago. The business partners plan was to provide “upscale food in a casual atmosphere.” Holmes, 62, grew up in Greensboro, North Carolina, but had family in McGaheysville. He said he has been working in restaurants since he was 14 years old, and had always wanted to open his own place. The White Star Mill Restaurant at 1 Mill Street closed in January 1992 after financial problems. At the same time, Holmes was looking to open his own restaurant after he and Bishop had worked together at a restaurant in Harrisonburg. When he saw the building at 1 Mill Street, Holmes said he “fell in love with it.” On Mother’s Day 1992, Holmes and Bishop, who lives in Harrisonburg, opened Mill Street Grill with a small menu. “I love it,” Holmes said. “I’m lucky that I love what I do.” He said he enjoys making people happy. “I just have a lot of fun when I’m working.” Today, the restaurant has a long list of daily specials, unlike most restaurants, and 60 regular items on the menu. “It’s a pretty good size [menu], and it’s a little something there for everybody,” Holmes said. Customers can eat light, and have just a salad or choose from among several appetizers. Or they can eat a big meal of pasta or ribs. “We’re known for our ribs. We do a really good job with ribs, but we do a really good job with a lot of things,” Holmes said. Mill Street has made it on Virginia Living’s Best of the Valley for several years, particularly for Best Brunch. The restaurant has undergone gradual interior renovations over the years, and originally served lunch and dinner every day. Holmes said the only time the restaurant has seen hard times was during the Great Recession in 2008 when he saw sales drop by 40 percent, and he had to cut his staff by 20 percent. Today the restaurant has a staff of about 45. The restaurant’s secret to its success, Holmes, who lives in Staunton, said is the hard work of staff, going out of their way to make customers happy, and providing a gluten-free menu. Since Mill Street opened, Holmes said the restaurant has always offered gluten-free options, before the idea was popular in most restaurants. Seventypercent of Mill Street’s menu is gluten free, including fried oysters, fried chicken and pasta. Customers only have to ask for the gluten-free option. A mozzarella tomato salad is Holmes’ favorite item on the menu. Mill Street has fresh seafood delivered every day except Sunday, and offers unusual menu options, such as elk and buffalo. Chyna Nolley, 20, is a server at Mill Street, but occasionally helps out as hostess. She began working at Mill Street four years ago, but the restaurant has a long and important history with her family. Nolley’s father, Charles Nolley, worked in the kitchen of Mill Street more than 20 years ago when he met his future wife, Wendy Nolley. “It’s kind of like a second family,” said Chyna Nolley of Mill Street. Her father is about to open his own restaurant. Her mother passed away a few years ago. Nolley, a graduate of Robert E. Lee High School, is attending Blue Ridge Community College. “[Mill Street is] a great environment, easy to fit in, very caring,” said Chyna Nolley. “I’m glad to be here. Dave Jenkins is a manager at Mill Street. Except for a four-year absence, during which he missed he said he missed the staff at Mill Street, Jenkins has worked at the restaurant since 1998. Jenkins, who lives in Staunton, said creativity able to communicate ideas. Linda Smith of Staunton has been eating at Mill Street regularly since the restaurant opened. She said the “consistently high-quality food,” caring wait staff and “very friendly atmosphere” keep her coming back. Also, the fact that Mill Street is family friendly. Smith’s favorite items on the menu include Mill Street’s soups and fish. “Everything is just very good,” said Smith. Alternate specials Mill Street is unique, according to Smith, because customers can dress up or dress casually to celebrate with a meal. Smith said he frequently refers Mill Street to guests from out of town, “and I know that they won’t be disappointed.” She is also impressed with the long tenure of staff at Mill Street, and that the restaurant’s owners and managers are always available. Harry Fox was born in Staunton and now lives in Waynesboro. He said he eats at Mill Street six nights a week. Fox said the restaurant’s consistency, wait staff and kitchen staff keep him coming back. He has met a variety of folks from out of town visiting Staunton who eat at Mill Street. Some of them he meets up with twice a year at Mill Street. Fox’s favorite items on the menu are pork chops and any of Mill Street’s fish. “You’re not going to find anything on the menu that’s not excellent,” said Fox, who graduated Wilson Memorial High School. Mill Street’s menu items also provide large portions, he said. “That’s all part of [Terry Holmes] recipe I guess for success,” Fox said.

Celebrating the Valley’s
Best of 2019

The News Virginian