Meet Shawn Malone: Owner of Magnolias at the Mill

I always tell others that we’re in the food and beverage business–we’re in the people business. Mankind is my business.”

Born in Washington, D.C. Shawn Malone is the proud owner of Magnolia’s at the Mill in Purcellville, Virginia. Shawn came to the Purcellville area in the 1990’s after receiving a phone call about an old Mill. This particular Mill was built in 1905 originally and was used in the production of pastured seeds as well as used in the 1940s to grind and press flower. On February 2004, Magnolias at the Mill was re-opened by Shawn continuing the focus of being a vital piece in the Loudoun Community. Magnolias is a new American dining restaurant that serves lunches and dinners which includes soups, salads, grilled specialties, house specialties, sandwiches, pizzas, as well as imported and domestic wines and beers. Shawn’s always at the restaurant whether it’s in the kitchen keeping watch, or in-house greeting customers with a warm welcome. Take a trip up to Purcellville, Virginia and see what this lovely mill has to offer.

Was there a lot of cooking in your household when you were young?

“My brother always said we got into the restaurant business to protect ourselves from our mothers cooking. I actually love cooking; I’ve cooked professionally for more than 25 years. I don’t cook now but when I’m not working I’m always asking myself what can I cook this weekend? I spend hours of my day each day, talking with the chefs, the cooks, and asking what can we possibly do to make this better.”

What is your education related to restaurant management and culinary?

“Not a lot of formal education. We are very big into educating our staff and ourselves, so we do promotions in house so we can get people to attend classes of some kind. When I was cooking in Tuskies, I took classes at the Culinary Institute of America, learning to make pastas. I also took a wine class and dining room management. If you’re working for someone who knows what they’re doing you can watch intently and try to soak up as much information as you can.”

Tell me about your career path. How did you get your start?

“When I was 16 my brother got me a job washing dishes at the place he was tending bar at. I worked there for about a year, and one of the cooks left from their taking me with him where he went to work. I’ve worked in Old Town Alexandria, Annandale, Falls Church, Fairfax, working in lots of different restaurants.”

What sparked your interest in owning rather than being in the kitchen?

“One of the things that really frustrated me and still does, I would hire a promising new cook, and I would spend an enormous amount of time training this person. From holding a knife, to basic sanitation, and then in a year or two they run off for a new opportunity. I went on a wine field trip in Oregon and I ran across this little restaurant called McMenamins. It was a small family restaurant that have 5 locations, each centered in different areas like beer, wine, and cigars. It was really funky and really cool, so I came back with this infectious desire to have a place that has a different kind of energy and feel to it. When this place became available I persuaded my brother and his partner to come out here to make Magnolias a type of beer centered entity with great food. When Tuskies opened they have 4 beers on tap, from the time span that I was there they went up to 15 beers. When Magnolias opened up we had 30, I wanted to have 50 but everyone told me I was crazy, I wish I had gone with 50 though because there’s so much good beer out there. As Magnolias grows, we are now starting to sell a lot of wine as well as beer. Our cocktail program has grown a lot, it amazes me how hard it is to get a good drink around here.”

What has been your greatest professional success?

“The restaurant business is funny, you’re really only as good as the last meal your customer had here. If you came here for the first time, your drinks weren’t full and your steak was overdone you’re going to walk out of here saying well it was a good looking place but not was I was expecting. I always tell my wait staff, don’t walk up to a table and ask if everything is okay. You should walk up and ask them is everything fantastic here? If they reply to you with a mouth full of food and they’re smiling then you’ve reached success.”

What are some of the challenges of being a restaurant owner?

“There’s a lot of them, the business aspect of things, and talking with guests. Being a busy restaurant is very challenging as well. It’s challenging because people think that you have control over the puddle in the parking lot, the maintenance on the building itself is a full time job, we’re constantly maintaining the building to try and preserve the hundred-year-old architecture. There are a lot of aspects to it but the goal is to make every guest happy.”

Is there anything else you can tell us about yourself, your career, or the profession that would be interesting or helpful to others aspiring to be as successful as you in the restaurant business?

“You have to have a passion for anything that you want to be successful in, for me I have a passion for everything about this business, especially people. I always tell others that we’re in the food and beverage business we’re in the people business. Mankind in my business. The little quirky things that people want and need, if those things bother you then you’re in the wrong business. I love food, wine, beer, cocktails, pairing food with beverages, and trying new things. Find out where you passion is, and do that.”