Lease lost: Not a marvelous night for Moondance

Rumors have been swirling around town lately about the reasons for the imminent closure of Moondance, the established eatery owned and operated by John Slaughter in the smack-dab center of the Downtown Mall. Well, Dish is here to shine a little light on the mystery.

We caught up with Slaughter on a recent Saturday, as he was scurrying about the kitchen solo, preparing meals for an early lunch crowd.

Slaughter told Dish that he was in the process of finding a viable buyer for his restaurant when landlord Ludwig Kuttner nudged him out. Apparently, the restaurateur tried to renew his five-year lease last month, but was told by Kuttner that such a renewal would cost him an unexpected, unprecedented $100,000.

Of course, Slaughter's answer was "no way." Kuttner's next move was decisive: "The next week I got a letter saying that new tenants were on the way in, and that they were to have first dibs on all of my equipment."

Slaughter suspects Kuttner's actions were motivated by the new tenants' promise of improvements to his Central Place property. But he can't be sure of all the details.

"It's hard to know how far the back-stabbing goes," he said, pounding plump chicken breasts flat with a mallet.

A spokesperson in Kuttner's New York office declined comment on the matter, referring us to a local office. Neither Kuttner nor his Charlottesville rep returned Dish's call by presstime.

One thing's for sure. A sale of Moondance is now out of the orbit of possibilities. "Moondance was the first of many restaurants to succeed in this location," Slaughter says, "and we've been here for nine years. Now it's basically worthless."

Slaughter probably could make more of a stink, but at this point he's just looking forward to spending more time with his wife and two young sons.

"I'd like to see how the other half lives," he says. Moondance will close after dinner on June 14.

As for the new tenants, Dish can't tell you all the tasty details at this point, but we can say that the culinary genre will be totally new to the Downtown dining scene. And the owner is not, as reported elsewhere, "one mysterious man," but actually three mysterious men– one local businessman and two chefs from Atlanta. None is named Capshaw.

We also know that the new owners are planning extensive renovations to the Moondance site, which include knocking down the central dividing wall, raising the ceiling, and building a jazz lounge. So even if the moon must set, the dance will, we hope, go on.

 

Ciboulette, José De Brito's eye-opening European cheese, wine, prepared gourmet foods, rotisserie, and select gift shop in the Main Street Market, just earned a spot on the regional map.

The relatively ripe emporium (1.5 years old) is featured in the April issue of Southern Living magazine as one of their "203 Favorite Shops in the South" ranging from antiques to garden gadgets to gourmet food emporia. Ciboulette was apparently (and curiously, considering its notable neighbors) the only Charlottesville store to dazzle the undercover editors with its culinary display and spacious snazzy setting. De Brito's French accent and expertise probably didn't hurt, either.

"After the magazine came out, I got a lot of phone calls from people right here in Charlottesville who'd never heard of my shop before, never been to this market," he says.

Kind of hard to believe for foodies like Dish, but true.

De Brito realizes his niche is small and specialized, but one that appears to be growing steadily. "When I first opened, I couldn't sell cheese here. My cheeses are ugly, they smell, they have wrinkles and mold, some have hairs. But if people are adventurous and willing to try new flavors, they usually come back for more," he says.

As for the future, De Brito says he's about 30 percent away from doing what he wants, explaining, "My goal isn't to compete with Harris Teeter or Whole Foods, to do everything and be mediocre. But I would like to increase staff, start a line of Ciboulette sauces, jams, and pastas, do even more in-house catering, and maybe even open a bistro someday."

So if you were waiting for an excuse to visit the Main Street Market and start eating like they do in Southern France, why not let this latest publicity inspire you to get out and sample some of Ciboulette's mouth-watering wares?

It's just one more reminder of Charlottesville's evolving status as a regional– if not national– gourmet destination.