A West Main Street classic, the Blue Bird Café is currently experiencing a revival of sorts. Just last week– on Monday, January 3, to be precise– the popular, 12-year-old breakfast-lunch-dinner place got itself some new owners to go with the brand new year.
Chuck Hancher, an accountant for the restaurant, and Brent Pye, a Blue Bird fan who was looking for an investment opportunity, plan to enhance the café's appearance and market vigorously. It's important to note, however, that Pye and Hancher are still in partnership with the café's original owners, Ed and Jeannie Cusick, who have migrated south to Florida where they own three other restaurants.
"We feel strongly about carrying on the BBC tradition of great food and service," Pye says, "and that involves keeping the staff intact and working closely with the Cusicks."
The long-shining stars of the Blue Bird staff are chef James Avnette and manager Jenny Mills. Famous for dishes like "eggs Benito" and "linguine with shrimp," Avnette is the real veteran: he's been with the restaurant for 13 years. The Blue Bird was the brainchild of Margaret Thiele who launched it in the McIntire Business Plaza, in the spot now occupied by Saigon Café.
Not far behind Avnette in terms of loyalty and longevity is Mills, who's been managing the Bird for 10 years. It's no wonder the Pye and Hancher want to keep this pair around. When we spoke last week, the staff seemed just as tickled about the new (local) owners, not to mention all of the planned upgrades to the facility. "Some things could really use freshening up," Mills said, pointing towards the slightly dingy looking bar stools.
Interior decorator Linda Pye of Pye Interiors (yes, she's Brent's wife), has created a two-phase design for the restaurant's slightly outdated interior that includes several fresh coats of paint (safari tan, dark blue, clean white), new upholstery, cobalt blue glass wall sconces, and a new carpet. When the restaurant re-opened on Tuesday, January 11, after a surprisingly short two-week closure for renovations, phase one was just about complete.
In addition to the dining room and bar improvements, major changes were also made to the kitchen, including new tile floors and easy-to-clean FRP (fiberglass) wall panels. Like the eager camellias in my garden, the Blue Bird is one of the first signs of the fresh energy and spirit of renewal otherwise known as spring.
Those with a strong memory and a taste for strong coffee might recall a story last summer about a coffee shop going into central Belmont's old Pepsi bottling building (the large, earthtoned brick warehouse just steps away from Mas). Well, I'm happy to say that it was not a reportorial mirage.
Jeff Easter of Jeff Easter Remodeling is picking up the pace on his thorough renovation of the building he and his wife, Melissa Easter, have owned for about a year. From the new and soon-to-be-landscaped outdoor side patio to the circular windows and many new offices, there were workers everywhere!
In addition to a new cabinet shop, a landscape architecture studio, and maybe even a new restaurant, Melissa's Latin-themed café, La Taza (Spanish for 'the cup'), will be one of the first tenants. Occupying the front corner space, this cozy and light-filled café with interior seating and a bamboo bar will spill out onto the ample patio, soon-to-be-shaded by crepe myrtles and colorful umbrellas.
Just back from Costa Rica, where she purchased a few old rocking chairs and visited coffee plantations, Melissa says she'll focus on great coffees and simple café fare like Cuban sandwiches, pastries and desserts. A March opening is planned.
Chef James Avnette checks out the Bird's new look.
PHOTO BY CHRISTINA BALL