Lewisburg’s Sparrow Huffman helped make farm-to-table mainstream, and now she’s reinventing The General Lewis Inn.
When Sparrow Huffman was a child, she took a trip with her mother to Green Gulch Farm at the San Francisco Zen Center. Huffman had seen farms before, of course—she’d been raised to nurture plants that sprouted from West Virginia soil. But here, she came across something new, something she credits with solidifying her future as a chef: fennel. “I had never seen or smelled fennel in my whole life,” she says. “I remember running my hands through it. It’s so feathery and green, and it smelled so amazing. I took that with me into my whole culinary journey. It just really stuck with me that this amazing thing was growing out of the ground.”
In the decades since, Huffman has always valued what springs from the earth and comes from her local community. She began her career at 18, working in coffee shops that roast their own coffee beans. Then, in 2005, she and her mother joined forces to create the Stardust Cafe in Lewisburg, which Huffman owned for 17 years and recently sold. It was originally meant to serve solely cafe fare, but customers quickly convinced them to transform into a full-service restaurant.
Through this, Huffman learned to expand upon a childhood full of home cooking and gardening and began working with farmers to curate menus based on what they could offer and what she could grow herself in any given season. “When we opened, the farm-to-table trend hadn’t hit West Virginia at all yet,” she says. “We were doing that because it was our own personal food culture.” She developed relationships with farmers that continue into her current venture, the Historic General Lewis Inn, which she and her husband bought in 2014.
Always a sentimental place for her family—she and her husband wedded there in 2009—the General Lewis Inn is now Huffman’s primary culinary home. The historic building dates to 1929 and now, through its authentic Southern food, its world-class bar—the Thistle Lounge—and the renovations her husband has completed, its timeless spirit continues to shine through.
When Huffman purchased the Inn, she threw out the canned goods and prepackaged ingredients the previous owners had used in the kitchen and thought back to what would’ve been used in 1929 when its doors first opened. “When writing a menu at that time, you wouldn’t be imagining what you could get from somewhere else. You would be imagining what you can get locally,” she says. “If I imagine it that way, then I can create a menu that makes sense. I love imagining that if we could all curate our lives more to support local endeavors, that circle of the economy that just gets reinforced again and again.”
This has led to the menus at the General Lewis Inn as well as private dinners Huffman provides, boasting locally sourced meats and produce at every turn. That idea isn’t reinventing the wheel, Huffman insists—it’s simply going back to our roots. “What I think is funny about that is that it’s trendy now to do that,” she says. “But really it’s the origin of Southern cooking.”
Huffman is still finding new ways to share the joy of food with others. She hopes to author a cookbook that gives home cooks delicious yet simple and attainable recipes they can have the confidence to tackle alone. She’d like to teach others how to cook on an open fire, something she always carries a cast iron skillet along for if her family heads to the lake for the day.
One of her biggest dreams is to host ticketed private dinners on the 10-acre hillside behind her home. From that tranquil perch, where Huffman likes to serve Father’s Day dinners for her husband, you can see mountains stretching for miles toward Virginia. It’s a spot Huffman describes as magical, especially when it’s filled with friends sharing a meal. “I think food is magic,” she says. “And the way that I create that personally through the things I grow as well as the things I buy, and how I pair those things together—that becomes my own personal magic.”