Bel Trio: Simpson, Weldon, Baldi launch Bel Rio
Bel Trio: Jim Baldi, Dave Simpson, Gareth Weldon plan to open Bel Rio in Downtown Belmont next week.
PHOTO BY DAVE MCNAIR
No one can accuse C&O owner Dave Simpson of rushing into things. After three decades operating what has arguably been one of Charlottesville's most successful restaurants, Simpson has finally decided to open a new one.
Bel Rio, located in the old Saxx Jazz Club space in Downtown Belmont, should open sometime next week if all goes according to plan, he says.
"I had a night club at the C&O that closed in 1989," recalls Simpson. "Unfortunately, that was not my greatest hour. I was young and not very savvy, and I didn't quite pull it together. I've always had a hankering to have a crack at it again."
While Simpson emphasizes that Bel Rio will be a restaurant primarily, one of his two new partners, Gareth Weldon, says the project was born out of a desire to provide space for local musicians. In fact, Weldon says he first started talking to Simpson about the idea at the Rick Olivarez Trio's weekly gigs at the C&O.
"I loved to go listen to Rick at the C&O, and so I started up a conversation with Dave about opening up a music venue for local musicians," says Weldon, using what he calls "gentle pressure continuously applied" to convince Simpson it could work.
Weldon, who describes himself as "an old musician, and a bad guitar player with a pretty good voice who played clubs for years," appears to embody the musical spirit of Bel Rio, while Simpson focuses on the food and ambiance, and third partner, Jim Baldi, a local accountant who does the books for many area restaurants (he was also a pastry chef at the C&O years ago), makes sure the trains run on time.
According to Simpson, the name, Bel Rio (pronounced Ree-o, not Rye-o), is a play on Belmont, Olivarez's Trio, and their own trio of a partnership, which appears to have evolved as thoroughly as the restaurant space.
According to Weldon, the acoustics were pretty bad at Saxx, so he had an engineering team analyze the space. As a result, special acoustic tiles have been affixed to the ceiling, and the floor and windows have been sound-proofed. In addition, he says, scores of local musicians showed up to help them paint, move equipment, and prepare the space. As for the kitchen? Simpson says it will be the "envy of everyone who's ever tied on an apron."
And the food? Simpson says it will be "totally different than the C&O" and feature small and regular-sized portions of all his favorite comfort foods, things like shrimp & grits, fried green tomato salad, pork and dumplings, french fries, burgers, and a mahi-mahi fish and chips special.
After speaking with the "Bel Trio," it's clear they have ambitious plans for Bel Rio, not only as a restaurant and a music venue, but as a welcome addition to Downtown Belmont, which Simpson characterize lovingly as "the Brooklyn of Charlottesville."
"We want to be a community gathering place, as well as a great restaurant and bar," adds Weldon, "We want to be alot of things."
Indeed, in addition to being open from 5pm to 2am every day, showcasing local musicians, serving up C&O-quality cuisine, Bel Rio will also be available for private events and will be open all day on Sundays, featuring daytime, kid-friendly music events.
"That person who said 'you can't be all things to all people' may have been wrong," jokes Simpson.
"Do it right, and they will come," says Weldon. "And we each want to do it right."