by nathan oster
She grew up in West Africa and Southeast Asia, owns two college degrees, is a single mom and has worked in variety of jobs, from serving as an administrative assistant to working at five-star hotels and resorts. Now Verna Inman can add the title of bar owner to what’s already been a fascinating life journey.
Inman finalized the purchase of the Antler Inn in Shell from Al Martin on June 29 and has spent the past month putting her own personal stamp on the bar. That stamp starts with a new name: Fossil Rock Tavern.
Where it ends … that’s anyone’s guess.
Oozing energy, Inman said, “I’m just so excited to be here.”
Inman came from Evanston, where her daughter, Joviann, is about to head into her senior year of high school.
“I’ve been looking for a place to live, a place to settle down, for the past few years,” said Inman. “My daughter is getting older and planning to go to college, and I knew I would have to get a life when she went off on her own.
“I also knew that Evanston wasn’t going to be that place. I love small towns, I love the mountains, the sense (of isolation). I saw this bar listed online, offering a place to live in a small community and in truly one of the most beautiful spots in the world.”
Upon visiting and checking it out, she said she “fell in love with it — with Shell, Shell Canyon, the creek, the rocks, all of it. The property immediately interested me. Seven months later, it was mine.”
Inman’s family roots are in Utah, but she said she spent a lot of her growing up years in Nigeria and Indonesia. Her stepfather was in the oil field. “We got to travel quite a bit,” she said.
She moved back to the U.S. to enroll in college and proceeded to earn an associate degree in business management from Utah Technical College and a bachelor’s degree in communications from Westminster College in Salt Lake City.
Inman has lived in the Wyoming for the past 20 years — first in Green River, then briefly in Glenrock before putting down roots in Evanston, where she has been for the past 10 years. For some of that time, she was sidelined on a professional basis due to injuries sustained in a serious car accident.
She’s done a little bit of everything: administrative assistant for a behavioral health center, stints at Walmart and with a radio station, event and hospitality manager for “five star” hotels and resorts, bartender and bar manager, among them.
“I have a lot of interests and I like to do a lot of things,” she said. “Right now, of course, my main interest is my new bar. I’m interested in lapidary work. I used to do silver jewelry. I like photography a lot, I like to travel and I like to cook. In general, I just like to learn new things.”
Two days after she signed papers, finalizing her purchase of the bar, Inman opened for business. The menu is currently limited to burgers, chips and salsa, but Inman would like to expand it. First, though, she’ll talk to the people of Shell to see what they want.
“I want to do more than burgers,” she said.
With help from friends and community members, her focus now is on giving the bar a good sprucing up. That includes thorough cleanings inside and out, plus new paint. Some wiring work must also be done.
“I’ve had someone with me in here all the time so far,” she said. “So far, the support — from the community and from my friends — has been tremendous.”
Hours of operation are currently 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. The business is closed Sundays and Mondays — but as those are the days the fix-up work is occurring, it’s often open then, too. “If we’re here, we’re open,” said Inman.
Her long-range vision is to preserve the bar’s rich history — about 80 years old, it was originally home to a gas station, tavern and café — while celebrating the geological uniqueness of the area. Rock is already a key element of the exterior design of both the bar and the house next door. Look for it to be even further incorporated inside.
“I want this to be a nice community gathering place that attracts people from all over,” she said. “I want people to come, and to keep coming back. I want to expand services am thinking about offering deals on camping and eventually I would like to have a greenhouse, which would make it a lot easier for me to expand the menu.”
She is also pondering ways to host a fair of some kind to showcase the works of local artists, jewelers, musicians and woodworkers, among others. In general, she wants the Fossil Rock Tavern to be a business that gives back every bit as much as it gets from the community.
“It all feels like a blessing to me — first, that I found this place, and then, that I was able to make it happen. I’m thrilled.”
It’ll be a bit of a rolling start, however. Inman plans to hire someone to oversee the business this winter and spring so that she can be in Evanston with her daughter as she finishes up high school. She plans to move to the area full time next spring. A grand opening is tentatively planned for next summer.