Story by Peter Milligan | Photos by Alexa Wolff
If you searched for the Red Fox Inn and Tavern on OpenTable, the popular hospitality review site, there’s one phrase that would rise above the rest as the most widely used to describe it: quality service.
According to Matilda Reuter, Red Fox Inn & Tavern’s general manager and the third generation of Reuters who have operated one of Middleburg’s longest-standing establishments, that’s exactly the impression she wants customers to take away from their experience.
“My family has owned the Red Fox since the 70s, and from the way we treat our staff to the way we welcome our guests, we want everyone to feel like family,” said Reuter, who, fittingly, was expecting the birth of her child the same day Middleburg Life spoke to her for this story.
“Since day one, the Red Fox Inn & Tavern has been the cornerstone of the town of Middleburg,” Reuter said.
And that’s no exaggeration.
Established in 1728, the Red Fox Inn & Tavern rests in the heart of Middleburg, in one of the most historic and recognizable buildings in the area. And for the last four decades, ever since Matilda’s grandparents Nancy and Frederick Turner Reuter purchased what had been their go-to date night spot in 1976, the Reuter family has been working tirelessly to preserve the food, service, ambiance and history that have made The Red Fox a Middleburg institution.
According to Red Fox, many notable politicians, authors, musicians, athletes and celebrities have walked through their front door. Some of these include President John F. Kennedy, who held a press conference in the JEB Stuart Room, and Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis frequently overnighted at the inn while on fall foxhunting holidays.
In fact, her experience was so positive that Jackie Kennedy felt compelled to write the following letter, which while no date was available, was presumably addressed to Matilda’s grandmother Nancy:
“Dear Mrs. Reuter: Not only are you the most generous person, but you must have the coziest most enchanting house in Virginia. It just exudes happiness, all the warmth and loving care that went into making such a home. I love your little girl’s great wicker basket of cuddly toys and think how lucky she is to grow up in such a room – with such nice parents! I feel guilty and very grateful. Thank you more than I can possibly express. Sincerely, Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis.”
Today, Matilda and her husband Jonathan Engle continue to run what is still one of the most popular destinations around. The couple comes from The Biltmore in Asheville, North Carolina, where they gathered industry best practices and brought them back to the family business.
The inn, which boasts 18 stunningly and historically beautiful rooms, plays host to many of the out-of-towners who pay visits to Middleburg for equestrian events, to hop around Loudoun County’s many wineries, or to simply soak in the antiquity of the city.
Although The Red Fox Tavern might have a reputation as a fine dining establishment, Matilda believes it is delivering some of the most rustic, traditional, country-style food in the area.
“We roast, we braise, we smoke—we make really humble but delicious food at Red Fox,” she said.
When asked if there was a staff, family or community favorite on the menu, she chuckled, and gave an answer that should have come as no surprise for such a longstanding Middleburg favorite.
“We’re the kind of restaurant and in the kind of family community that, if we were to take any dish—and I mean any dish—off the menu, we’d have some very serious problems on our hands,” she said.
That includes Matilda’s personal favorite, the crispy duck, which is smothered in Virginia Chutney Company’s spicy plum chutney and served with sesame ginger rice. Other local favorites are the crab cakes, the Duroc pork chop and the steaks, which The Red Fox sources from Amish farms in Pennsylvania where they are able to keep tabs on exactly where, when and from whom their beef is coming.
And aside from the excellent culinary offerings and the quaint and lovely inn, Matilda and Jonathan remain steadfast in their mission to create the family atmosphere that has played such an important role in the history of Red Fox Inn & Tavern, and that extends to the staff.
“We have a staff of roughly 50 here at Red Fox, many of whom are family members to one another,” said Matilda. “We have folks who have been working here for 10, 20, 30 and even 38 years, so we are very much a family.”
In fact, at the time you’re likely reading this story, the Red Fox staff will have just returned from one of two annual “breaks,” one in the summer, which gives staff an opportunity to rest and recharge their batteries in preparation for the busy fall season, and one in January after the always hectic holidays.
Now that’s how you treat a family right. ML