There’s a new face at a very old West Volusia restaurant: The Old Spanish Sugar Mill Grill and Griddle House.
Translated, that’s the restaurant at DeLeon Springs State Park where you cook your own food on a griddle in the middle of the table. The new face is managing partner John Michaelos.
Restaurant owner Patty Schwarze, whose parents started the popular eatery at DeLeon Springs State Park in 1961, said she has not sold the restaurant, but welcomes Michaelos, whose role will allow her to move from daily participation to behind the scenes.
Schwarze said Michaelos is a great fit for the Sugar Mill, world famous for its tabletop griddles, where customers line up to wait for hours on busy days to cook their own pancakes.
“He’s a local hometown boy,” Schwarze said.
Indeed, Michaelos said, the Downtown DeLand building at 145 N. Woodland Blvd. that houses the Byte Bistro restaurant bears his family’s name.
“My grandfather came to DeLand in 1925 and was in the bar business since the 1930s,” he said. “That was his building.”
Michaelos did not directly follow in his grandfather’s footsteps.
“I had a communications company, M-Tel, for 15 years, which I sold at the end of 2017,” he said. “Prior to that, I was in manufacturing.”
His current shift to hospitality, Michaelos said, is “just one of those odd things that just ended up happening.”
With a chuckle, he added, “It wasn’t even on my radar screen to be in the restaurant business.”
Conversations with Schwarze revealed that after more than a half-century spent in the restaurant, managing it all since 1981, she wanted to do something different.
“That’s a lifetime in the business,” Michaelos said.
He agreed to come on board and, after his lifetime in a completely different world, is learning the dynamics of food service.
“When it’s busy, it’s just super intense; there’s a lot going on,” he said.
No matter how fast it spins, Michaelos has no plans to reinvent the perfectly rolling wheel at the Old Spanish Sugar Mill.
“Everything is exactly as it has been, and I have no intentions of changing anything,” he said. “I think a fool walks in and changes things when everything works and it’s successful. It works, and it works for a reason.”
Rustic and homey, nestled into a serene natural setting, the Sugar Mill appeals to locals’ need to get away when life won’t allow going too far.
“There’s something kind of magical about the place, that people really love,” Michaelos said.
Michaelos and Schwarze share a sense of awe watching generations of families returning to the restaurant for holidays and other special occasions, or just because.
That ode to tradition is a novelty that hasn’t worn off for Schwarze, she said, and one that Michaelos looks forward to seeing continued.
“My favorite part, always, is just being around people,” he said.
With the Old Spanish Sugar Mill cranking 363 days of the year — it’s closed on Thanksgiving and Christmas — Michaelos will have no shortage of opportunities to be around people.
Including some very special people who work at the restaurant.
“The staff we have here is just exceptional, exceptional,” he said. “They create the atmosphere and just do an amazing job.”
Late in the summer of 2017, the West Volusia community held its collective breath while the state delayed renewal of Schwarze’s five-year lease on the Sugar Mill building.
Originally constructed in 1830, the Sugar Mill was rebuilt in 1900, after being destroyed twice, in the Second Seminole and Civil wars. At the eleventh hour, a new lease with the state was signed, and the popular park concession is safe for another five years.
“It’s such a cool restaurant, so iconic, a neat place with a neat atmosphere,” Michaelos said.
And now he’s the manager.
“Life takes you in odd directions sometimes,” Michaelos said.