Madison's Main Street: Inn hopes to be more

Michael Riley says he never dreamed of opening a restaurant. Originally from Indiana, Riley lived and worked in Northern Virginia for 20 years before he and his wife, Susan, bought some Madison County land and relocated.

Riley considers himself a Northern Virginia refugee, and one of an even larger number of baby boomers preparing to leave the workforce who have bought semi-retirement properties in Madison. Lacking adequate retirement packages and unable to rely on their meager social security payments, boomers are having to come up with creative ways to preserve their lifestyles and prepare for their golden years.

Riley's plan is to open the Madison Inn in the former Beulah's space on Madison's Main Street. "I plan on doing this until I drop," says Riley, 54, whose "retirement" plan sounds more like a mission to revitalize the tiny town. "We want to create a place for the community that will be here for years," he tells Dish. "That's what we're going to nurture."

Indeed, the Rileys have taken their Bodo-esque time getting the old Beulah's space ready– almost three years.

"We want to do this our own way," says Riley, who gets as excited talking about Madison's Main Street Project as he does about his restaurant. Thanks to $1.2 million in state and federal grants last year, Madison has already replaced water lines, planted shrubs, installed new sidewalks, and improved building facades along Main Street. Plans to bury power lines are on the table. About 11 properties on Main Street are being funded, says Riley. All this bodes well for his hope that Madison will become a destination for people from Charlottesville.

Riley hopes to have the Madison Inn up and serving an economical breakfast, modest lunch, and a more expensive dinner in a couple of weeks. Executive chef Bob Heck, formerly of Prince Michel, will serve up seasonal cuisine and use produce from local farmers whenever possible. The Madison Inn will also stay open between seatings, says Riley, serving lattes, cappuccinos, and an assortment of pastries for anyone who drops in.


Far-flung favorites

 While Madison is in the throes of a Main Street makeover, Staunton's venerable downtown has already won revitalization prizes, including a "Great American Main Street" Award from the National Trust.

What makes Staunton's downtown so unique are some of the eateries that have become landmarks in their own right. For example, the Pampered Pallet on East Beverley Street has been serving soups, sandwiches, and coffee for 26 years.

Six years ago, present owners Steve and Kathleen Trach took over and changed almost nothing. "It's the atmosphere and the character of the building that create the great feeling here," says Kathleen. "It's not new and polished. It's been here for years, and that's what makes it special."

However, the Trachs do offer seasonal specials in addition to sandwich favorites like the Turkey Statler (commemorating the Statler Brothers, the city's most famous sons along with Woodrow Wilson) and a mouth-watering hot smoked turkey and brie on French bread, dubbed the Frontier Museum.

Next door, the Beverley Restaurant has been around for even longer– family-owned for over 30 years. It literally feels like going to grandma's house for lunch, and frankly, there's nothing like an open-face roast beef sandwich and mashed potatoes smothered in gravy on a cold day, especially when it's brought to you by someone who looks like grandma.


Ah, but Dish digresses... in local news it comes to our attention that Zandi's on 29 North now serves Lebanese and Persian food at night. The authenticity factor is reported to be high. Although the owners could not be reached by press time, a Dish source says that both the food and the atmosphere remind him of actual places he had frequented in Turkey. Once again, the culinary variety in our little burg leaves Dish speechless.

Kathleen and Steve Trach took over Staunton's Pampered Pallet six years ago. "It's been here for years, and that's what makes it special," says Kathleen.