With new owners and name, Plymouth's The Fig & The Pheasant honors its rich past and ushers in a harmonious future
PLYMOUTH - If the walls of a hotel could talk, they might tell of all the memories created by the passersby who made a temporary home in their embrace.
And a hotel dating back to 1892 would have a lot of stories.
Instead, those stories are stirred up from barstools by returning guests. Every night, Patrick O'Toole listens as people tell him about how they said "I do" to the love of their life in this very hotel, or how they had their first drink right there at that bar.
Ronna O'Toole said one woman recently came back to celebrate her birthday because when she came to the restaurant as a little girl, she felt like the piano player was always playing just for her.
Last month, the O'Tooles took over ownership of the historic pub and inn that sits at 52 Stafford St. in downtown Plymouth. As the new caretakers of the establishment, they changed the name to The Fig & The Pheasant.
For 15 years, the goal to run their own bed and breakfast sat in the back of their minds, but it wasn't until about a year ago that they began actively looking to take the next step.
The couple and their two children moved to Plymouth in 2017 and fell in love with the area right away. So when they were actively looking for a way to fulfill their dream, they would drive past what was then called 52 Stafford and wish that it could be theirs someday.
The only problem was it wasn't for sale.
Some friends encouraged them to talk to the current owner and ask if they'd be interested in selling, anyway. In April, they reached out to the owner at the time, Rip O'Dwanny, and set up a time to talk. The meeting went well, and the O'Tooles were on their way to making their dream a reality.
O'Dwanny, who owns a chain of hotels and restaurants across Wisconsin under the Harp & Eagle Limited brand, purchased the Plymouth location in 1978 when it was called Hotel Mitchell. He was attracted to its stunning architecture and the history of the area.
His favorite memory of running the hotel is the guests. He remembers Mario Andretti, Michael Andretti, Scott Goodyear and Kevin Cogan passing through due to the nearby road races in Elkhart Lake. He said Walter Payton used to stay there too.
O'Dwanny said after talking with the O'Tooles he thought they were perfect for taking over the hotel. He said they are qualified, capable and kind people.
"If he was going to let it go to someone else, it would need to be someone who would take care of it," Ronna said.
With a deep appreciation for the history of the site, the O'Tooles are putting their own touch on it. The changes they have and will be making are designed with the guests in mind and will have details that nod to their theme: herbs.
The O'Tooles have a fondness for herbs and the meanings that are typically assigned to them. At their first job working in a kitchen together, they would pick fresh herbs daily, even sometimes twice a day to use in their dishes.
Most noticeably, they changed the space where guests enter. It used to have tables, but the O'Tooles wanted it to be more of a gathering space. Every evening, they have complimentary wine and hors d'oeuvres for guests in that lobby area that now has sophisticated couches and chairs arranged for conversation.
"You are in Plymouth, but you could be anywhere," Patrick said.
The restaurant area remains the same as it was before with live Irish music on Wednesday nights and the smell of the old fireplace lingering throughout and into the bar.
Eventually they want to offer fine dining and renovate all 19 rooms, which are currently named after Irish poets but will be changed to herbs or edible flowers. For example, they suggested that a honeymoon suite might be called rosemary since it means remembrance. One room is currently being worked on, but since they didn't stop operations between owners, changes are happening gradually.
"We're trying not to worry about speed because we want it to be right," Ronna said.
She said regulars have been patient with the changes.
Wonderful people and very, very good chefs
The O'Tooles are chefs. The shared profession is what brought them to each other, led them to living abroad for a decade and ultimately landed them in Plymouth.
"Not only are they wonderful people, but they're very, very good chefs," O'Dwanny said.
In 1998, Patrick and Ronna were competing for the same job in a kitchen in northern California. They managed to both get hired for the position and eventually, in an unusual act, took over that kitchen in tandem.
She specializes in the sweet, he in the savory, and together they create a balance and synergy that makes them a seamless and efficient pair.
The harmonious duality of a sweet fig from the earth and a savory pheasant from the sky represent the complimentary way Patrick and Ronna work together.
"We each have our strengths," Ronna began. "But there's no walls in our kitchen," Patrick finished.
They both hoped that a culinary career would allow them to travel, and that came true.
They found themselves next in Minnesota where they had their daughter, who is now 14. When she was just a year old, they moved to the Caribbean. Next was Norway in the Arctic Circle, where their son, who is now 10, was born. They then spent about seven years in Oslo, the capital of Norway.
From there they spent some time living in Dubai and finally Hong Kong before coming back to the United States. At that point, they felt ready to be done with all of the moving and wanted to come back to the Midwest.
Initially, they moved to Kentucky because Patrick was recruited for a job that combined his knowledge of Dubai and American business. He wasn't happy though, so he found a position as the culinary director at The Osthoff.
"We felt like we landed," Patrick said.
Ronna said she sometimes feels a bit guilty about how much the kids moved around when they were younger, but she is also thankful for everything they got to experience.
She said they love it in Plymouth, though. They love their schools. Their daughter attends Plymouth High School and their son is at Riverview Middle School. Her daughter takes dance classes and her son plays baseball, which he wouldn't have been able to do in those other countries.
The O'Tooles are happy and ready to be planting roots in Plymouth, and they count it as their honor to be caring for the old memories and allowing people to make new ones at the hotel that will always sit at 52 Stafford St.
Reach AnnMarie Hilton at email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter at @hilton_annmarie.