The Wishing Well Restaurant is a fine dining gem celebrating their golden anniversary as a family-owned business this week.
Threatened by fire the first night they stayed in the apartment above, for the Lee family, it was a single dime that held the promise of this wish coming true.
A Historic Start
In October 1967, an electrical fire ignited in the basement of the home and restaurant that Robert and Brenda Lee had just moved into with their family. Upon discovering the smoke, Robert searched for a dime to use in the restaurant’s pay phone – the only way to call the fire department at the time. Luckily, he found one.
Spared from fire damage that night, the historic structure was originally built in 1823 by Perry Stiles, one of the town of Wilton’s founding families. It was sold to businessman Jack Hedrick, who opened it to the public as a restaurant in 1936. The building has been used as a home and business by various owners ever since.
Today, a picture of the Stiles family hangs in one corner of the restaurant’s comfortable dining room, marking an area that used to be a bedroom. In it, there is a boy perched upon a large rock, the last of the Stiles children to be born in the house. The rock still rests in the same spot today.
The wishing well that gives this establishment its name is also still there. When the Lee’s son, Bob was a child, he threw a coin into the well and wished for a bicycle. When he got a bicycle he told everyone of the magic of the wishing well.
The restaurant continues to enchant with its four fieldstone fireplaces, piano bar and refined menu options, while the radiance of Brenda’s warm and friendly nature fills it with a definitive charm.
Hailing from the midlands of England, Brenda’s adventurous spirit led her to perform in a high-wire act before taking on the responsibility of running a restaurant with her husband.
“I was more scared opening day here than I ever was on the high wire,” said Brenda.
They opened on her birthday, May 3, 1968. The chef they’d hired didn’t show up. Fortunately, a chef from Glens Falls Hospital filled in and they served 35 tables that night. When she asked a customer how he liked the food, he said, ‘It’s ok, the peas were tough’, recalls Brenda with a laugh.
Awe and Excitement
Robert had managed Llwellyn Farms Restaurant in New Jersey for ten years before running The Wishing Well until his passing in 2012.
“This place meant everything to him, he just loved it here,” said Brenda.
The signed photographs covering the walls are evidence of his continuing legacy.
“You meet an awful lot of nice people,” said Brenda.
Frequented by many famous faces, she was especially thrilled to meet Fred Astaire, who’d just wrapped up filming “Ghost Story” in nearby Saratoga Springs.
“He was my idol as a kid – such a good dancer – I wanted to be just like him,” she said.
The Lee family has held a place in the important moments of so many people over the years. Now managed by Bob and his wife Mary Alice, Bob said that it is the reconfirming patronage by the world’s greatest chefs that come to enjoy the food, service and ambiance at The Wishing Well that excites him most.
Once reserved for special occasions, as dining patterns shift, the restaurant has as well. The Wishing Well’s award-winning wine selection is a testament to this progressive philosophy.
“Wine programs are living programs that evolve and change with the demands of the clientele,” said Bob.
Giving diners another option to enjoy the luxury of quality dishes in a convenient new way, after an evening little league practice, Bob was inspired to introduce the ‘Tuesday To Go’ menu.
“Our goal is to continue to make as many happy memories for guests and families as possible,” said Bob.
The Lee’s strive to serve the people of Saratoga County both inside the restaurant and beyond. Robert was instrumental in organizations including the county’s Chamber of Commerce, Tourism Bureau and Economic Opportunity Council. They provide substantial amounts of financial assistance to local charitable organizations in the form of donations and discounts.
A family photo taken the year The Wishing Well opened sits atop the restaurant’s piano and reminds Bob of the life the Lee family has spent here. It’s is a legacy that many in the restaurant business wish for more but few achieve.
“It doesn’t seem possible that it’s been 50 years. Everybody’s just so happy to be here,” said Brenda.