What’s next for the Old Mill Inn, one of Dallas’ oldest restaurants?

While almost no one was watching, Dallas’ historic restaurant, the Old Mill Inn, closed its doors in Fair Park and has been under new operators since early 2022.

The 86-year-old restaurant is now in the hands of OVG Hospitality, the food and beverage arm of Oak View Group. Oak View has co-managed city-owned Fair Park since 2019, and they’ve earmarked about $1 million for upgrades to the Old Mill Inn in an effort to revitalize it as a new dine-in destination, says Brian Luallen, CEO of Fair Park First.

“The building is suited to be a year-round concept,” says Luallen. But the building needs a lot of work.

OVG took over restaurant operations from former operator Ed Campbell, who ran the restaurant for approximately 25 years until December 31, 2021.

Campbell is a 40-year-old dealer at the Cotton Bowl and had developed a deep attachment to the history of the Old Mill Inn. It’s the second oldest restaurant in Dallas, behind El Fenix, and the building has housed a Youngblood’s Fried Chicken and an El Chico in its nearly 90 years.

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The Old Mill Inn was built as a public attraction during the Texas Centennial Exposition in 1936. Inside, visitors learned how the flour mill worked and watched cooking demonstrations by Ida Chitwood, whom Campbell calls “the Betty Crocker of ‘the era’.” ”

The interior of the Old Mill Inn restaurant, from the main entrance to the Fair Park building, shows it empty for now.(Ben Torres / Special Contributor)

Campbell clung to much of Chitwood’s memorabilia and it is now in the hands of entrepreneur D-FW Ashlee Russ. She and James Bresnahan co-own a renovated gristmill built in 1872 in Collin County that has been repurposed as an event space.

The Old Mill Inn had been closed for most of the COVID-19 pandemic. It has operated seasonally, for special events, including concessions at the State Fair in 2021 and for some murder mystery dinner parties. Otherwise, it has been largely unused as of 2020.

It was as if the legacy of the restaurant had almost disappeared.

“It’s amazing how many people I’ve spoken to who have fond memories of the Old Mill Inn – but almost none of them have been there in the past few years,” Luallen says.

Campbell and his team would love to be able to reinvent the restaurant themselves. The loss of this historic building still stings.

Problems at the Old Mill Inn

Once a modern marvel in the 1930s, the Old Mill Inn suffered in its later years. It was busy inside and out during the 24 days of the State Fair of Texas, says Campbell, but the remaining 11 months of the year could be slow in Fair Park, with no visibility from the thoroughfares neighbours.

“If you can’t see it from the street, you don’t know it’s open,” says Theresa Rynell, director of marketing and special events for Ed Campbell Co.

“In Dallas, if you’re out of sight, you’re out of mind.”

The Old Mill Inn is in an indoor space in Fair Park.  Customers will need a reason to...
The Old Mill Inn is in an indoor space in Fair Park. Customers will need a reason to stop – a show at the Music Hall or a trip to the aquarium, for example.(Ben Torres / Special Contributor)

The Old Mill Inn’s hours and days of operation have become more erratic over the past five years, starting with a drop in sales in 2017, Rynell says.

Fair Park had already lost traffic in the previous decade, after the Women’s Museum closed for lack of funds and the Museum of Nature & Science moved to a brighter space, the Perot Museum of Nature & Science, near the center -town.

When Fair Park hosted special events like the Catherine the Great Exhibition in 1992 and “Body Worlds” in 2006 and 2007, the Old Mill Inn flourished, say its former operators.

The Old Mill Inn was damaged by the February 2021 ice and snow storm. When Campbell checked the restaurant, he found burst pipes and “water that had been running for three days,” he says.

The Old Mill Inn was among several Fair Park buildings impacted by that storm, Luallen said.

“Between that and the pandemic, the building just wasn’t in working order,” he says. “But it will.”

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The New Old Mill Inn

The hospitality group that has run the Old Mill Inn since early 2022 wants to “bring it into the 21st century,” says OVG360 spokesperson Julian Bowman, “while retaining the beautiful charm and aesthetic of the exterior. “.

The restaurant has always contrasted with the art deco buildings erected at the same time in the 1930s. The Old Mill Inn is rustic, made of stone, while its neighboring buildings are clean and geometric.

Luallen notes that it is “one of the only examples of the park’s original novelty architecture from 1936”.

The first time visitors will see the Old Mill Inn under its new operators will be this year at the State Fair of Texas. The interior of the restaurant is unlikely to be open, but OVG plans to sell drinks and take-out items on the terrace.

After the fair, the Old Mill Inn is set to reopen the dining room as a full-service restaurant with an unnamed executive chef. They are not ready to advertise the kitchen or the design.

Although the building will undergo some changes, curators need not worry about the fate of the building, confirms Luallen.

“This building is so important,” he says.

“And, no: we never take it off.”

The Old Mill Inn (temporarily closed) is located at 3611 Grand Ave., Dallas. More to come on the sequel to this historic site.

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