Good-bye, Carmello's; Hello Mex... and meals tax hike?

Last February, Carmello's, the venerable Italian restaurant that was located for 19 years at its familiar Emmet Street location next to the EconoLodge, moved to Fontaine Avenue into the former site of Ludwig's Schnitzelhouse and Arirang Restaurant. At the time, owner Bill Hedges, along with his head chef wife Stella, was excited about the possibilities, given the space was three times the size of the old restaurant. He planned on doubling his staff and creating a little piece of Italy on Fontaine. Last week, however, those plans came to an abrupt halt.

According to the office of landlord Paul Boukourakis, Carmello's was evicted for "non-payment of rent."

No answer, of course, at the restaurant, and we've been unable to reach Hedges, who also opened the Downtown Deli on the Downtown Mall the same year of the Carmello's move. A sign at the Deli's 5th Street location says they are closed for "remodeling."

Court records show that Hedges also had some difficulty paying meals tax and food supplier bills. The restaurant business in Charlottesville, as any owner can confirm, is pretty competitive these days. Anyone who can keep one going for nearly 20 years deserves a medal. So long Carmello's. You'll be missed.

Of course, the fate of the Hedge's two locations, Fontaine and 5th Street, may be up for grabs for an enterprising entrepreneur. We'll keep you posted on developments.

Speaking of meal tax
Meanwhile, with restaurants like Carmello's struggling to pay rent and meals tax bills, Charlottesville City Council recently proposed a plan to make up for the school budget shortfall by raising the meals tax from four percent to five or six percent.

According to vice mayor Kristin Szakos, who suggested the idea during a council session last week, the plan could be a win-win for restaurants, foodies, and the community. The plan would be attached to a marketing campaign, informing diners that every time they eat out they are supporting area schools. Szakos said a similar plan was launched in Roanoke.

"Saying this may benefit the restaurant in the long run is ludicrous," says Fellini's #9 owner Jackie Dunkle. "This is not going to encourage people to go out to eat to support the schools."

As Dunkle points out, the dining market may already be saturated.

"All of us are struggling to keep up with the increased number of options in this city," she says. "I think this tax would be unfair and unequal. Since the expense is passed on to the customer, it seems unfair to make diners, who support local restaurants, pay for this shortage."

As Councilor Dave Norris points out, Szakos was the lone councilor to have suggested the proposal, and he's not inclined to support a meals tax increase.

"Most localities have had to either increase tax rates and/or make substantial cuts in basic services over the past several years," says Norris. "Charlottesville has avoided having to do either.  I would like to see us continue in that vein."

Norris thinks that through a combination of spending cuts and short-term City support, the schools can "close their projected deficit and continue their forward momentum."

"In my mind, the proposal would be more politically palatable if Albemarle County were looking at taking a similar step," says Norris, "so that our City businesses are not put at a competitive disadvantage vis-a-vis County businesses." 

Tasty Mex on Greenbrier
Although we've mentioned the opening of El Tepeyac on Greenbrier Drive, there wasn't much ink about the new Mexican eatery. We caught up with owner Maria Gracia recently and got the skinny.

"We're a local family owned restaurant that started out as a small taqueria about three years ago," says Gracia. "Staying true to our roots, we are committed to serving the most authentic Mexican and Salvadorian cuisine– using recipes that have been in our family for years."

In addition to traditional basics like tripe tacos, tinga (chipotle-sauced chicken) burritos, homemade Mexican longaniza tortas and Salvadorian pupusas, you'll find heartier traditional entrées like chicken, steak, and shrimp fajitas, chiles rellenos, and carnitas on the weekends.

"We also recently got our liquor license so we will be adding a variety of margaritas and mojitos to our menu," says Gracia.



Szakos is completely insane. How is this a win for restaurants and foodies?

Lets see, we spend a ton of $ on the 4th Street Crossing for the homeless and then dump another 80K into "Mall Ambassadors" for the homeless and then tax those who are actually coming downtown to spend money. Seems like a recipe to attract the homeless and drive away those who spend.

And will that many really miss Carmellos? The answer seems clear.

Seems that paying the meal tax is not truly a burden that falls on the business as implied in they article. The money is fronted to the restaurant by the customer. The business is in trouble and having to use that "fronted" money for purposes other than paying the appropriate tax......Sad to see them go.

The burden is one more tax and more paperwork. The burden is that if eating outside of cville is cheaper than inside...

Bring back Paul's Pizza, Paul! That was theee best pizza sauce in town.

sorry jimi, but I'll miss Carmello's.

Once the "bully" UVA refused to renew Bills lease at the rt 29 location and he opened at the new location just as they closed the bridge on him it was lights out! Best of luck to you Bill and your family.

Remember Barnabys? They had some good pizza.

I will miss Carmello's. Great food and even better service.

There you go again, Szakos aka the local version of Obama, trying to raise taxes to redistribute the wealth, take from the working man to pay for all the programs for those who choose not to work.
If you need money then stop spending on all your frivolous projects, like more sister cities, mall ambassadors, commissions for this and commissions for that.
And Norris needs to stop looking towards the county to come to the rescue. of the city all the time . To suggest that the city will raise a meal tax "if the county does" is poor leadership.
With all the new restaurants springing up along 29 and at Stonefield, the city should be doing everything it can to help their restaurants bring in customers, not drive them away.

Heh...I was wondering what those dudes were doing up on the roof the other night...I was sitting in the Thai 99 lot (the other Boukarakis property) waiting to meet a friend for dinner there, and saw the guys taking down the sign. I never understood how Carmello's survived in the original location: pretentious and lousy; all the fussy pomp, Chef-Boy-ar-dee cuisine. I went twice at the old location, just to make sure it wasn't a one time fluke, and never went again.

I too miss Barnaby's; not the greatest pizza in the world, and certainly not fine italian dining, but considerably more reasonably priced than Carmellos. I ate at Paul's as an undergrad, and I have to say while it was good, no great loss.

The closed bridge had squat all to do with it - access to the Carmellos location and parking was not in any way impinged, unlike the corner businesses. Another example of "private business" types blaming the government for their own entrepreneurial failure.

The Food tax is hefty and I'm not in favor of raising it again, but it is 100% passed through to consumers and what is that constant line from free-market, anti-taxers: if you want less of something, just tax it? Well, Charlottesville - inside the city limits - is absolutely teeming with restaurants. Looks like "the market will bear it".

LOL - Carmello's "Chef-Boy-ar-dee cuisine." I thought so, too.....

And I've heard nothing but bad things about the Downtown Deli.

Awful, awful food! Thank heavens for Bella's!

I hate to say it cause I'm all for small business but the food was not good.

Carmello's was kind of out of style, with its huge portions or mega-calorie meals and high prices. But it was a great destination for if/when you were willing to shell out 25 bucks for a big plate of linguine with an ocean-load of clams. It couldn't draw the basic lower-budget market that goes to the Fontaine area restaurants like Guad and Anna's and Wayside and Yuan Ho, and it wasn't enough of a scene to compete with the one high-end joint in the area (Fry's Spring Station). And how many Italian food places can one intersection really support? Also, that Schnitzlehaus/Ludwig's/Arirang loctaion was horrible for attracting uncommitted diners -- too dark, no windows to see if anyone else is dining inside (seeing others in there has a proven positive impact on restaurant success), and not on a path for pleasant strolling. Whatever goes in there, to succeed, has to have great enough food and offer it at reasonable enough prices for those handicaps not to matter. The best example of a place that can overcome those barriers is maybe Macados, in Lynchburg. I REALLY miss C'ville's old Macados that was on the Corner in the 1980s. The location in L'burg makes the best sandwiches in central Va, and sells them and good beer at great prices. C'ville seems to be the only college town in Va without a Macados, and all the ones I've been to in places like Radford, Roanoke, L'burg, and Christiansburg thrive. The building on Fontaine may be a little small for a full-scale Macados, but maybe? Please? I'm jonesin' for a Zigfield Club.

"But it was a great destination for if/when you were willing to shell out 25 bucks for a big plate of linguine with an ocean-load of clams."

Which must be the easiest dish in the world to make at home. For 5 bucks a head.

re: "Macados"

There was one, where Michael's Bistro is now (right?). It died in '94 or so.

Macado's was in the current Trinity Irish Pub space (previously O'Neill's for many years, and Ziggy's and Ham's before that) and I believe was still there in the 1996-97 range.

Nah, it was upstairs. I remember falling downstairs.

It was definitely upstairs, and it was spelled "Macadoo's."

Here's an idea-- fire some bureaucratic administrative people to make up the budget shortfall. I *know* you can find some.

too many restaurants in this town now. Don't know how half of them stay open!

Trinity has an upstairs, you know? That's where Macado's was, not Michael's Bistro.

tentimesodds has it right, re the old M's location. I miss O'Neill's too, and haven't yet tried Trinity. And Hawkins is wrong on the spelling -- the one here was part of the larger local Va-based chain, with only one "o." Corner location made it less convenient for anyone who uses a car. The best locale would be where Wild Wings is now.

Bill Hedges is one of the most dishonest business owners this area has ever seen. He promisses the world, Stella sits beside him and smiles and he puts the shaft in you. He owes everyone he has ever dealt with money...I mean everyone. He has bankrupted Carmello's, Downtown Deli, Tony Gee's in Ruckersville and several people that have fallen prey to his ponzi schemes. He gives hard working restauranteurs a bad name. He is a drunk, a womanizer, a sexual preditor, a liar, a thief, a con-man and I can only wish him the absolute worst in his future endeavors. I have seen the workings of his kitchen and his food comes straight from a can. If you think you ever got real home cooking then you better think again. He even owes all of the lawyers that handled ALL of his bankruptsies. Hey Bill, if you read this and I'm sure you will, do the world a favor and choke yourself to death on one of those discusting cigars. Hey the hook, instead of deleting this post, do a little investigating and you will see that I only speak the truth. Check court records for Albemarle, Charlottesville and Greene Co. if you cant find it under Hedges then look under Villasious Hatzigeorgio. No matter how you spell it it all says Scumbag. Thanks and Have a nice day everyone!

I ate at Carmello's quite a few times not only was the service great, but the food was amazing! I don't know where the person that thinks the food was Chef Boy Ar Dee has eaten in the past, but it sure wasn't great italian food and it doesn't come out of a can. All I can say is your taste in food must not be very refine. The restaurant was in business for over 20 years something had to be right about it. Starting with the owner/chef Stella and her son George ran the restaurant with professionalism and treated all their customers with respect and gratitude. Can't speak about Bill Hedges and dont care. I would eat in any restaurant that Stella is a chef at and know that food would be wonderful.

I'd forgotten about the Tony G's connection. I googled it and found these are the top 2 comments on Urbanspoon (from 2011, before Tony G's went out of business!):

No Respect
by Wild Bill (4 reviews)
Food is always cold. Owner has no respect for the customers he is always drunk.
2 out of 2 found this review helpful

August 19, 2011
by tkellly_ttsva (1 review)
ok so i travel alot, and i go to alot of different places in virginia (my job requires it) now i live in madison va it is 15 miles or less from ruckersville. i stopped in here for lunch today and was amazed wtf. ok first off the waitress (a stressed out mid 30's lady) was being drunkenly berrated by a older gentleman at the bar (who i later found out was the owner), she moved me from the front of the restuarant (where i could here his drunken comments) to the side of the restaraunt (where i could still hear his drunken comments but not as loud) this was at approximatly 1:00 in the pm xD. i was disgusted by the way he treated his staff and his customers. the food was mediocre at best (i got mine to go and he didnt even have to go silverware causing me to go next door to the gas station to get a plastic spoon and fork) plus the things he was saying and the way he was acting was beyond anything i have ever experienced in my life (at one point the lady bartender walked back to my section to tell my waitress that he had just told her to go to walmart and by a skimpier shirt) he was drunk out of his mind. i have never written a review about any restaurant before but i just had to about this one, never go to tony g's never give this nasty ass man a cent of your money, as i was walking out one of his employees even asked me if i knew where there where any jobs, unfortunatly i did not. never go there, this guy is the scourge of greene county...........cant wait to see this business fold!!!!!