Couple turns Buchanan Hotel into New Orleans-style restaurant

July 20, 2007|By ASHLEY HARTMAN

MERCERSBURG, Pa. - After Hurricane Katrina struck New Orleans and severely damaged their home and their oil business, John and Deniz Celestin left Louisiana and searched for a ski condo at Whitetail Resort.

Instead, the couple purchased the James Buchanan Hotel and Restaurant in Mercersburg.

"We were enamored with the building - it reminds us of New Orleans," Deniz Celestin said. "We walked in and it felt like it was our place."

Judy Bonciu, the real estate agent who was helping the Celestins find a condo, owned the restaurant with her husband, Catalin. When the Celestins found out that the business was going to be sold, they became interested.

"I think after 15 years, they were after different ventures," John Celestin said. "They had quite a customer base."

"They've been very helpful throughout this venture," Deniz added.

Following the hurricane, the Celestins moved to Montgomery County, Md., to live with Deniz's parents.


"We were able to sell our business," John said. "It took us a year to sell the business and house (in New Orleans)."

The couple have not changed the atmosphere of the hotel and restaurant, which was the childhood home of President James Buchanan. But they have added their background to it, with the restaurant specializing in New Orleans and European cuisine.

"We just want to embrace what's here and infuse New Orleans cuisine," Deniz said.

Some of the most popular dishes are barbecue shrimp and crab claws, crab cakes, the 8-ounce filet mignon and duck, said Meredith Johnson, head server at the restaurant.

John, who has a French and Italian background, was born and raised in New Orleans. Deniz, who has a Turkish background, was born in the Georgetown section of Washington D.C., and also has lived in Italy, Japan and Mississippi.

The couple met when Deniz moved to New Orleans to study pharmacology at Tulane Medical School.

The subtle New Orleans influence in the hotel and restaurant can be seen by the fleur-de-lis, a typical symbol from the city, and a New Orleans street lamp.

To go along with the New Orleans feel of the hotel and restaurant, John and Deniz hired New Orleans chef Andrew Thornton.

"When we moved here, we knew we'd need an authentic chef," John said. "He's been in the kitchen since he was 14 years old ... he's very experienced."

"I love it," said Thornton, whose family relocated to Mercersburg. "There's no other job for me."

John hopes to bring musicians to perform in the courtyard behind the building, where people can eat. John grew up in a musical family - his father played the clarinet and saxophone professionally, and his mother was a classical pianist.

"We're trying to get students from the (Mercersburg) academy to play outside," Deniz said. "Music is everywhere in New Orleans, and we want to bring that here."

Although the business has been successful so far, John said there were difficulties at first.

"It was difficult because we had to recruit a chef from New Orleans, and we had not been in the restaurant business before," he said.

However, both believe the community has been very supportive of their business.

"We've been very lucky, not only because we're staring a business, but this is supposed to be the slowest season," Deniz said. "Despite all that, we've been very steady."

"People have embraced our cuisine," she added.

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