Betsy and Scott Mitchell have built their lives around family. For over 30 years, the couple worked as managers for the family plastics manufacturing company in Michigan, while raising their children.
Then in 2015, after setting up a new plant in Ohio, the empty-nesters decided to try something new, and quit the family company (which manufactures parts for automotives and appliances, like the silverware basket in your dishwasher). They moved east to settle in Woodstock, where their daughter Maggie and her family soon joined them from Brooklyn. “We have a lot of experience in management and running a business,” Betsy Mitchell says. “But we had absolutely nothing in mind, other than that we knew we were probably too young to not do anything ever again.”
It seems that collaborating with family was a hard habit to break for the Mitchells. When the former Wok ‘n’ Roll building came on the market in 2019, they began playing with the idea of opening a nightclub with live music. They reached out to their niece, Meghan Haas, a hospitality industry veteran, to see if she would come on board as the manager, and when she accepted, they put in an offer on the property. The Mitchells closed in February 2020, weeks before the pandemic swept the country and upended their plans.
“We were planning on mostly being a bar/music venue that served some food,” Mitchell says. “After COVID hit, we realized it was going to be a long time before live music would come back. So we kind of flipped our plans, and said, ‘OK, we’ll still be a music venue, but right now we need to be a restaurant.’ We knew it would be challenging, but we had a better chance of serving food than live music.” In a silver-lining kismet twist, Haas’ husband, Mike Brooks, lost his job as a chef during the pandemic and agreed to come on board as Pearl Moon’s chef. With a growing team, the restaurant pivot was beginning to feel viable.
“Things have been falling into place,” Mitchell says. “And I think that’s the whole thing. After COVID hit, we got together and said, ‘We have to go forward, we already bought it.’ We had to reinvent our idea and adjust to what was happening in the world. Between Mike, Meghan, Scott, and myself, we’ve all been in business long enough to do that.”
After months of renovation and drawn-out permit processes, Pearl Moon opened in mid-January, staffed by Betsy and Scott Mitchell, their daughter and son-in-law, niece and nephew-in-law, plus a few friends. “It’s kind of fun that we get to work with family, but a different branch,” Mitchell says. “I come from a really large family with lots of brothers and sisters.”
Brooks has extensive experience cooking in well-loved Brooklyn spots like Bed Stuy bar Moloko, bar and supper club Saint Maize, and Cafe Moto. For several years, he co-owned a sandwich shop called Endless Summer. His background tends toward sophisticated spins on casual themes, a perfect preparation for Pearl Moon’s elevated diner fare concept.
The restaurant opened initially with a brunch menu boasting hearty dishes both sweet and savory, like eggs benedict ($14), huevos rancheros ($14), short or tall-stack pancakes ($8/$10), and housemade biscuits slathered in maple-honey butter ($6). “Mike’s ability to make food…” Mitchell trails off. “I’m at a loss for words. Everything that comes out of that kitchen is just amazing.”
The proof is in the pudding. The Mitchell’s started with a 9 to 2 schedule. Then 9 to 4, with a lunch menu. Then 9 to 6, with a happy hour food menu. And in another few weeks they’ll roll out dinner options and extend their hours again. Their recent Valentine’s Day prix-fixe dinner sold out of both seatings. “The food is the draw,” Mitchell says. “We’ve had nothing but rave reviews.”
The lunch menu offers options like the burger, which you can order with one, two, or three patties($7-$12); a breaded fried chicken sandwich ($9); a reuben with house-made corned beef ($11); and a spice-rubbed grilled pork loin sandwich with caramelized onions and house-made pickles ($12). The happy hour menu features pub food classics like nachos and wings.
Luckily for their mid-pandemic opening, the spacious interior is big enough to accommodate 14 to 15 socially distanced tables. And with their prolonged opening runway, the Mitchells took time to make other COVID changes like touch-free restrooms. Pearl Moon currently accepts both reservations and walk-ins, though popular days like Sunday brunch are increasingly booked out.
“We’ve not only had rave reviews on our food but also on our service,” Mitchell says. “Meghan just made this happen. She took our idea and made it a working restaurant.”
Set into the slope of Mill Hill, Pearl Moon space has three tiered spaces. The lowest level has a full bar and a stage, which you can see from the middle restaurant level. The top tier will be set up as a cafe/salon, which can be closed off to create a low-key lounge area during future live music gigs. “It’s laid out beautifully,” Mitchell, “My husband, whose background is in engineering, did a great job. There isn’t a bad seat in the house.”
When the music does return, the Mitchells plan to showcase predominantly local musicians in a free-flowing environment that lets them shed band associations. “The town is full of amazing talent,” Mitchell says. “There are musicians that play in particular groups, but then they’ll pull together and jam. That’s what Wok ‘n’ Roll was—a place where someone from this band and someone from that band could all get together and freelance.” Other plans include poetry nights and a gallery of work by visual artists.
Until then, this busy family hive operation will continue to hum along, dishing up soul-warming diner classics one plate at a time.
52 Mill Hill Road, Woodstock