New restaurant planned for Milford Abbott’s Grill location

MILFORD — Milford may be welcoming one of its newest businesses soon as Lisa and Walton Johnson prepare to open Benvenuto in the Riverwalk Center on Front Street.

The new restaurant will fill the vacant commercial space left when Abbott’s Grill closed its Milford location in January.

With business and organization skills under their belt, including a catering company by the same name as their upcoming restaurant, the pair hope to have Benvenuto up and running around mid-November, according to Ms. Johnson.

“We’re expanding because of the economy of scale. We have more work coming to us than what we can legally do,” Mr. Johnson said. “We’ve maxed out here.”

Lake Vasey carries food catered by Benvenuto during an event at Sunset Cove in Milford. Benvenuto will soon open a restaurant in the former Milford location of Abbott’s Grill on Front Street. (Submitted photo)

The Johnsons currently host up to 12 major events at their home they’ve named Sunset Cove on the outskirts of Milford. They can also host an unlimited number of smaller, private events with under 50 guests.

“We’re only allowed to have so much here. And, we can only have one a weekend here at Sunset Cove,” Ms. Johnson said.

Although they will continue hosting private and special events at Sunset Cove, they are planning to offer more dining options at Benvenuto while also giving guests the hometown feel the Johnsons have come to love in Milford.

“We’re going to have chicken and dumplings on Wednesday nights like Geyer’s used to have. That was a big thing to Milford,” Ms. Johnson said. “Geyer’s was a place people thought of as not just a restaurant. They went there because they felt comfortable. They felt like they were going home.”

A chef and the management staff have already been chosen and Italian-themed décor is being planned with Tuscany in mind, an important place in Ms. Johnson’s family history as her father was stationed there for 11 months while serving in the United States military as a cryptographer.

He and his wife, Ms. Johnson’s mother, got to know a local family while there.

“Pier Luigi (Cortesi, of Livorno, Tuscany) was 7 years old when my mom was there. He’s now 72,” Ms. Johnson said. “He’s been here twice, once by himself and once with Jea after they got married. My parents went back twice, and then after Father passed away, Mom wanted to go back. I’ve never been, but we all got to go two years ago. Our whole family experienced their lifestyle and the closeness I grew up hearing about.”

The décor will be fashioned after Italian and, specifically, Tuscany, imagery much like they experienced during their visit abroad.

“Pier Luigi knows seven languages. He’s a retired school teacher and he took us to all these places. The rooms in the restaurant will be called all those places that were there and part of the history that was given to us by him. They’re just family and that’s why it’s special. Tuscany is all about family and relationships, that’s what it’s all about. I get choked up thinking about it,” she explained.

The Milford couple hopes to start introducing Tuscan-inspired dishes to their clientele over time, but plan on focusing on comfort food. They hope to host several tasting events open to the community prior to opening to get a better idea of what is a hit with future diners, and what might need to be tweaked.

Meatloaf, surf and turf, beef wellington, cowboy steaks, burgers, paninis, salads and more are already being planned for the restaurant.

“Something to hit everybody’s price point is what we’re trying for,” Ms. Johnson said. “It’s not a high-end restaurant, but it is at the same time. And we’ll have a valet. It’s built for it. It’s already there. We want to make it available for guests so that they can be taken to their cars just as a courtesy.”

The building itself will require some work before they can open and permits need to be approved by Delaware’s Department of Health and Social Services.

It all needs to be done before the holidays, though, as the group has already started planning a New Year’s Eve Ball with live music, drinks, favors, a sushi bar and special menu to kick off the 2020.

“It was a total picture. They could go there for Valentine’s Day. They could go there for the special occasion or they could go there for meatloaf. It hits all the points and that’s something we can do, too. But we’re not planning to be open on Sundays, other than Mother’s Day. Sunday, if we’re open, it will be for brunch only and it will be for our community, our donation to the community day,” Ms. Johnson said.

“We do feel the Lord has given us this. It’s something we never would have dreamed. He provided the chef, the management and so forth. He’s given us the ideas and we feel that that day should not be used for us to make an income, but we feel He is OK if we give it away. I feel good about that. I feel like that would help the community.”

While Milford waits for its newest sit-down restaurant, the Johnsons suggested community members keep an eye on their new sign, which may feature promotions before their opening.

“We hope this is something that Milford can be proud of and want to bring all their friends to. It will expand Milford and bring people to Milford from all of Delmarva so maybe we can help our downtown grow back and help people want to walk around Milford again,” Mr. Johnson said.

Reach staff writer Jennifer Antonik at jantonik@newszap.com

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