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Mary Beth Kilmer: Making music, art & food happen

By Staff | Apr 3, 2009

I’ll wager a bet that there are few in Shepherdstown who haven’t met Mary Beth Kilmer. Known to most simply as “Mary Beth,” she’s the very likable face of the Blue Moon Cafe. And what’s not to like? She’s always friendly and very funny and adept at making you feel comfortable whether you drop in three times a week or you’re a first-timer.

Mary Beth Kilmer grew up in Charles Town with mom Jean Doyle, step-dad Don Kilmer, sister Wendy and brother Todd. The kids from Charles Town went to Jefferson High then and when Mary Beth was about fifteen, “As soon as my parents let me get in a car with my friends I came to Shepherdstown.” She said “My Shepherdstown connection was Meredith Wait.”

Litchfield County, Berkshire Mountain territory in northwest Connecticut is a wonderful corner of the world. To call it picturesque would be a gross understatement. Mary Beth was a sophomore at Shepherd University when she and a good friend took off to spend the summer on Lake Waramaug. Her friend had a job lined up at The Boulders, a Colonial mansion on the lake built before the turn of the 20th century and billed as “the finest Inn in Litchfield County.”

Mary Beth didn’t have a job lined up, she just went along for the ride and planned to hang out at the Inn while her friend was working. One night a staffer didn’t show and Mary Beth was pressed into service. Not bothering to explain her employment status, she picked up a tray and dove in. At summer’s end when it was time to go back to school, Mary Beth didn’t. She had become hooked on everything about the “food service industry” and decided to continue her education at The Boulders Inn. And did so for the next six years.

After returning to the Eastern Panhandle, Mary Beth went to work at the Sheraton in Martinsburg where she eventually rose to food service manager. In the twelve years she worked for Sheraton she learned the business from top to bottom and when she left it was to start her own business.

By that time Mary Beth had married Ed Barney and the two opened Ed’s Beer & Wine in Ranson a hub of activity for the home brew set. It was the time when everyone was taking a crack at making their own brew, if only to put their name on the label. It wasn’t the rebirth of prohibition, it was just a very trendy thing to do. The business grew and moved and changed. First to the shopping plaza out near Food Lion then to E. German Street where Peddle & Paddle is. It became Ed’s Tap Room & Deli. They sold homemade soup, sandwiches, twelve different kinds of beer and – knowing Mary Beth this is no surprise – offered live music. By now Mary Beth and Ed had a little son named Nick. Today Nick is a junior at Jefferson High.

Now, you might wonder what do The Boulders Inn, the Sheraton Hotel chain and Ed’s Tap Room & Deli have in common. How did lessons learned at a four star inn and a hospitality powerhouse translate into running a local favorite? That just it. They were all favorites.

I’m a firm believer that a good restaurant is not all about food. It’s about friendliness, the clientele, comfort and entertainment. and that’s why you decide to spend your money at a particular place. You like the way you’re treatedyou always have a good time, it makes you happy. Good food is important, absolutely, but that’s not the only drawnot for the long haul customer anyway. Mary Beth learned her craft well.

By 2002 life had changed for Mary Beth. Ed’s Tap Room & Deli was no longer, neither was the Barney marriage. Now a single mom and planning for Nick’s future, Mary Beth set about to find what she was seeking in the “industry” on her terms. In doing this she and Nick lived in several places. First, a home on Duke St. with good buddy Diane Batt, “Then we moved to the Funny Farm.” She laughed. Excuse me? “That’s what we called Peter Tompkins Farm out 480. It was like a compound.”

Five years ago Mary Beth went to work for Greg King at the Blue Moon. “Most of my staff at the Tap Room was working there so even though I didn’t know Greg all that well, I was comfortable at the Blue Moon from the start.” Mary Beth has always been not only the supporter of the arts but more than that, an advocate for artists. “I’ve loved Shepherdstown because of its openness and diversity and artistic climate for a very long time. There is so much wonderful art and music originating here and I wanted to give the artists another venue to perform and show their work. “

Greg agreed to let Mary Beth put her plan into action and in 2004 and it took off like a rocket. The Blue Moon became a Mecca for local talent featuring the likes of John Kruger, The Love Machine, Chelsea McBee, Fox Hunt, Bloody Nines, the Speakeasy Boys and so many others and is booked every weekend.

Ask any artist around. They’ll tell you the Blue Moon gives them a “break.”

Mary Beth is a huge fan of the “good kids at the college” and tomorrow the first Shepherd University Senior Art Show opens to the public. The show is in honor of the late Sara Chroussis to benefit the SU Scholarship Fund.

In 2005 Mary Beth fell in love with Tony Furioso and they settled down in Cress Creek. Then, when their son Harper came along, Mary Beth, Tony, Nick and Harper moved into town and Mill Street. “Our neighbors are great, it’s near the park, the day care center, and it’s Heaven for kids and two blocks from work. It’s perfect.” She said of her neighborhood almost gleefully. Tony Furioso is a soft spoken, easy going, very nice fella in an interesting and, as he and I discussed, pretty “recession-resistant line of work.” He works for Sanders Museum Services on Flowing Springs Road. This is the company that designs and produces metal installation products and then installs them in places including The Spy Museum, The Clinton Library, The B.B. King Museum and the Smithsonian.

Mary Beth and Tony’s best friends Rachel Meads and John Meeker are constants in the neighborhood social scene, and there are also long time friends like Sylvia Ellsworth, with whom Mary Beth has a special bond. Charmagne Landers is another good bud. Charmagne and Allison from the Lost Dog are opening up Ally Kat and Moon Dogs soon where Mimi’s used to be. Mary Beth plugged her friend’s venture because “Competition is healthy, it keeps you on your toes. I wish there were more restaurants in town.”

It’s a good life on Mill Street and one of Mary Beth’s greatest joys is the Nick and Harper relationship. “Nick is crazy about his little brother and Harper adores him. That’s the most important thing in life. “So Mary Beth, what do you do when you’re not at the Blue Moon? ” I asked. “Laundry, “she answered and we laughed. That’s what you do a lot when you’re with her you share a laugh. What does she do in her spare time, or even when there’s no spare time? I tried to get her to toot her own horn. It didn’t work, she praises everyone but herself. However, more than a few of you know that Mary Beth Kilmer is the quintessential friend in need. And she has lots of friends.

– Sue Kennedy is a former public relations executive and Emmy Award winning screenplay writer.