By: Jen Merrill; Photography by Jadrian Klinger
Char Magaro is the type of woman who gets things done. She’s the type of woman who can participate in an interview while making business decisions concerning paint colors and archways and edging. And, all of the while, she’s surrounded by a soundtrack of drilling, sawing, moving and shaking produced by countless construction men.
The constant ring of her iPhone is almost inaudible under the buzz, but Magaro remains aware.
She’s on the brink of opening a new restaurant in Harrisburg after almost six years of plotting and planning; she has no option but to multitask. But this woman makes it look effortless.
Magaro’s new place, Char’s at Tracy Mansion, is an American brasserie, presenting a change from her previous bistro, Char’s Bella Mundo. A brasserie’s menu includes foods that pair well with beer, and this new establishment features drinks on tap as well as a fantastic selection of craft beers. Of course they haven’t forgotten about Beverage Manager Sal Pantano’s renowned spirited beverages and unique non-alcoholic creations.
Executive Chef Ron Canady created a menu that merges Bella Mundo favorites with new, delectable American- and Eastern-inspired dishes. A new addition of small plates and mini desserts offers a wider range of options for patrons.
“You know, it’s very important to me that people feel comfortable to come in and have a small plate and a drink,” Magaro explains. “It’s a place where you can feel like you’re in an upscale environment but you don’t need to drop $150. But for those people who want that, we have that, too.”
Char’s Bella Mundo, her 10-year-old establishment in Shipoke, experienced devastating damage during Tropical Storm Lee in 2011. Her new location, the first floor of the Tudor Revival Tracy Mansion on Front Street, was originally the home of Harrisburg Pipe and Pipebending Company executive David Tracy. It was later converted into an osteopathic hospital and a mental hospital until it went vacant.
“A lot of people were really hesitant about this space when they first heard about it. They don’t want big. They don’t want loud,” says Magaro.
“A lot of people were really hesitant about this space when they first heard about it. They don’t want big. They don’t want loud,” says Magaro. “I think I did the right thing. I’ve been looking at this floor plan for a long time. We had an architect, but I designed the space. I really think each room affords some intimacy.”
Her last location was known for its endearing intimacy, and it’s a feeling Magaro refuses to compromise. Char’s at Tracy Mansion is larger than her previous spot – all of Bella Mundo could fit in her new kitchen – but it’s broken up into smaller rooms that still honor the vibe for which she’s known.
The front dining room is complete with floor-to-ceiling windows that invite diners to view a sculpture garden featuring Glenn Zweygardt’s distinctive mixed-media work. A breathtaking view of the Susquehanna River backdrops everything the eye can see. French doors allow patrons to wander out to a canopy-covered terrace with the same perspective. A tent in the middle of the sculpture garden will become a picturesque location for live music.
Another room, the McKee Library, is the perfect spot to enjoy a cocktail or cappuccino while browsing Magaro’s personal collection of books regarding art, political science, environmentalism and religion. The gallery is a private room that attributes some of its coziness to the original fireplace it houses. A long, inviting bar separates theses two rooms from the front dining room.
Artists such as Zweygardt, Ona Magaro – Char’s daughter – and Gerald McKee will have work on display throughout the establishment. Exceptionally creative pieces are stationed everywhere, including the gallery, the library and even the hallways and bathrooms, which adds to the creative atmosphere of this space.
Besides being a strong supporter of local arts, Magaro has a history in environmental activism that has translated into her business practices. From the newly installed bamboo flooring to the constant search for local, organic food sources, Char’s at Tracy Mansion is certainly a sustainable-practicing business.
“We also put in a geothermal system, and we are 100 percent wind-powered,” Magaro explains. “We will recycle all of our waste, even organic, which is very important to me. We need more of these ideas in Harrisburg.”