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Ownership requires an investment, not only of money, but also of time, talents and emotions. So, when it comes time for entrepreneurs to part ways with their life’s work, there is an overwhelming desire for that investment to be turned over to the right hands.
On the surface, the relationship that exists between Mike Saphore and Matt Funck seems strictly business. But just below, there is a trust, an unspoken understanding, an entrepreneurial code, if you will.
On Dec. 7, Saphore handed over a hefty chunk of his life’s passion, as well as the symbolic keys to the Fredericksburg Eagle Hotel to Funck. Yes, there were financial considerations involved, but the transaction was just as much about community, continuity, and especially people.
For 16 years, Saphore worked to make the Fredericksburg Eagle Hotel, at 101 E. Main St., into a gathering place for locals, an establishment where patrons could get good food at a square price, a pillar of the community. Funck and his brother Alan, and their families already own and operate eight similar taverns in and around Lebanon County – Funck’s in Palmyra, the Rising Sun in Campbelltown, Funck’s Restaurant in Leola, the Mount Gretna Hideaway, the Quentin Tavern, Snitz Creek Brewery in Lebanon, Snitz Creek Brewery at Fort Indiantown Gap, and T.J. Rockwell’s in Elizabethtown and Mechanicsburg.
“I’ve become emotionally attached to the business, and the employees as well,” said Saphore. “It made the decision going forward easier and smoother. It was an emotional day when I told my employees. But I felt like they were in good hands. One of his (Funck’s) priorities is taking care of the employees who are taking care of them.”
“Honestly, when you take over someone’s blood, sweat and tears, you want to continue it,” said Funck. “I don’t want to do any drastic changes. We want to keep up that status quo. I feel an obligation to Mike. With anything like that, you want to see that hard work continue. There are some things we’re looking at that Mike hadn’t done. It’s a change, but it’s not like people will be saying ‘I can’t believe they’re doing that.’ ”
Three days after exiting the military at the age of 40, Saphore settled on his purchase of the Fredericksburg Eagle Hotel in March 2007, at a time when indoor smoking was permitted and 75 precent of the business’ sales were generated by alcohol. With gradual and consistent improvements to the kitchen, the interior, the exterior, and finally the addition of a deck, “The Eagle’s” reputation and clientele grew steadily.
“It evolved from a corner bar,” said Saphore, a 56-year-old resident of Fredericksburg. “It’s not just a drinking spot anymore. It went in a direction we hoped it would. It became a warm, comfortable place to come. I always felt like we gave it the hometown touch. Once our customers were in to see what we had to offer, it was our job to keep them coming back.”
“We’re already dealing with similar customers, and even some of the same customers, at our other locations,” said Funck, a 47-year-old resident of North Annville. “One of our customers said to me, ‘It doesn’t really fit in with the other restaurants.’ But our goal isn’t for them to be the same. They all offer a different atmosphere and something different for the customer. Not everyone likes the same thing, and that’s OK.”
After Saphore’s gut told him to exit the local restaurant business about a year ago, an initial deal to sell the Fredericksburg Eagle Hotel fell through before a lawyer put him touch with Funck. Funck wasn’t necessarily looking to add a new property, but neither was he willing to pass up a good opportunity.
“It was a no-brainer for me,” said Funck. “Everything I’ve ever heard about the Fredericksburg Eagle Hotel has always been positive. It has a good reputation in the area and it was in great shape. I’m always looking for other businesses, as long as it’s the right place at the right time. I have kids coming up who would like to work in the business.”
Read More: Wing Wars: Fredericksburg Eagle Hotel (Lebanon Valley Food Critics)
“The key was treating everyone the way you would want to be treated,” said Saphore. “We put out a great product for an affordable price. When you do that, you can’t go wrong. I’ve talked to Matt and some of his employees, and he takes care of his employees. That was also a part of the decision-making process.”
There has always been a hotel located at 101 E. Main St. in Fredericksburg.
A halfway point on a path from Allentown to Harrisburg, the establishment was known as Donna’s Fredericksburg Hotel prior to Saphore owning it. With the Funcks and family now at the helm, the 200-year-old establishment’s future appears secure.
“When you get a program headed in the right direction, more people want to be a part of that,” said Funck. “Mike started it, and I want to continue it. We’re always looking to get better. Hard work is what it still takes today. I enjoy people. I enjoy talking to people. I enjoy working with people.
“I knew of Mike,” continued Funck. “But when I met him, it was like, ‘Wow, I wish I would have known him before.’ There are a lot of great people in this business. I hope to have him as a friend moving forward. I hope Mike will be a customer for life.”
“I’m going to miss all the friendships,” said Saphore. “I’ll miss the daily grind. I’ll miss the camaraderie of my fellow employees. I’ll miss the people, first and foremost. We gained a lot of friendships over it, hopefully lasting ones.
“We gave it 110 percent,” concluded Saphore. “I poured my heart and soul into that place. But I also know in the back of my mind that I did the best job I could for my community, my family and my employees.”
In that way, the Fredericksburg Eagle Hotel is in good hands.
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