No problem? Moldering Galerie site gets new owners

Believe it or not, there's a restaurant that has been waiting to open longer than Bodo's on the Corner.

Back in January 1995, Richard Cooper was the proud owner of the parcel located by Mechum's River at the junction of Route 240 and 250 in western Albemarle. He'd already ripped out the walls of the former Galerie restaurant to build his dream business, Café No Problem, when the county issued a stop-work order. Despite several years and several hundred thousand dollars spent in the quest for county approval, work on the now-derelict property between Ivy and Crozet remained stopped.

Nearly a decade later, its days as an entrance corridor eyesore may be ending. Cooper sold the property July 8 to Alexandria transplants Bill McKechnie and Melton McGuire for $275,000, and the two want to see a restaurant there again.

"The property is infamous," acknowledges McGuire, who has owned a couple of restaurants in Northern Virginia. But he wasn't deterred after reading articles detailing the sordid past of "Café Big Problem," as the place soon began to be called.

Practically a generation has grown up thinking the gutted structure has always been that way.

"The good news is that everyone you meet wants something to happen there," says McGuire.

"We're excited," says McKechnie, his partner in the enterprise, which they're calling Mechum's Trestle LLC. "We feel the support is there in both the county and the community. And we're working within county guidelines to re-establish the old site plan."

McKechnie declines to estimate when the building might have walls again. "That's one of the things that get you in trouble," he says. Besides, the former bakery owner is tied up trying to get Five Guys Burgers and Fries open in the former Chesapeake Bagel space in the Barracks Road Shopping Center.

Neither partner is interested in running a restaurant at the 250/240 site. "Our tactic is to set it up so someone else can carry through on their vision," says McKechnie. According to McGuire, several Albemarle restaurant owners have already shown interest.

In the 1990s, Cooper battled the county to win a connection to the sewer system and preserve the site's existing parking rights, travails that were documented by this reporter in a local weekly. He eventually prevailed and got his approvals, then listed the property for sale in 1998.

"I have the classic case of seller's remorse– but still joy in the morning," chuckles Cooper. And while his dreams didn't come true there, he says, "It is a fantastic location."

"I think the property is a victim of its own history," says McGuire. "I hope we have better luck than Richard."

Could this western Albemarle eyesore/landmark soon get a major makeover?