New Year's transitions: Fusion, Kokopelli's hand over the keys"
As was recently reported, former City Centro owner Andreas Gaynor has sold his downtown eatery, Fusion. According to a voice-mail he left us, Gaynor finally got an offer he couldn't refuse, but he wasn't saying who the new owners are. Curious, Dish set out to get the scoop.
"The sad thing about people who own small businesses," says Gaynor, only half joking, "is that they have to sell their places to take a vacation." Like any savvy businessman, Gaynor admits that Fusion was for sale as soon as he started it. He was just waiting for the right deal and the right time.
"I needed to take care of myself. I didn't want to get an ulcer," Gaynor laughs. " Don't get me wrong, I had a decent life, and the people at my restaurant were like a family, but it was time to try something new."
After 15 years in the restaurant biz, Gaynor says he's happy to be debt free and is looking forward to some time to reflect on his next move. "I'm going to relax and see what kind of epiphanies I have," he says.
So who gave Gaynor time to have epiphanies? Meet the Epstein brothers.
"I think we can run the best fast-casual restaurant in Charlottesville," says 26-year-old Dan Epstein, who, along with his 25-year-old brother, Charles, plan to open Eppie's on March 1. "It will be nice like a sit-down place like Bizou, but quick like Christian's Pizza," says brother Dan.
The Epsteins settled on the Fusion space after scoping out locations for almost two years. "We finally decided that Downtown was the place to be," says Dan, a former UVA student who moved back to Charlottesville after his girlfriend (now wife) began law school here.
Entrees like jerk chicken and lemon pepper chicken, fresh pastas and sauces, and meal-size salads will run between $6 and $8, and brother Dan says their counter and tray service will allow them to get orders up in three minutes or less.
"We're not talking about rocket science here," says Dan. "It's simple food, but it will be fast, fresh, and good." Dish was impressed with the Epsteins' youthful energy and enthusiasm. If Gaynor's worry about ulcers is any indication of what's to come, they're going to need it.
Ribs and Rock in Crozet
Out in Crozet another changing of the guard has taken place. A smokehouse-style restaurant, bar, and weekend music joint called Uncle Charlie's will be taking over the old Mountainview Grill/Kokopelli's spot.
Owner Charlie Mayer, who has been a chef in Pennsylvania for over 20 years, plans to open for dinner Friday, January 13, with musical guests American Dumpster playing later that night. On Saturday, perennial favorites the Hogwaller Ramblers will take the stage. Covers for both shows are only $5 for two people.
Mayer specializes in what he calls "elegant smokehouse" cuisine, which feature tenderloins, fillets, crab cakes, and the must-have wings and ribs as well. Of course, soups and salads will be part of the mix. Mayer hopes Uncle Charlie's will have a neighborhood bar atmosphere, a casual place where someone can come in and watch a football game, have a beer and some ribs, and stay around to catch a show.
After eight years, l'Avventura quietly closed its doors in late November. Dish recently caught up with owners David Wyatt and Ann Porotti, who back in May, put both l'Avventura and their Vinegar Hill Theater up for sale for a cool $1.5 million. Since then, they've decided to keep the theater. So why did they decide to call it quits on the restaurant?
"The business itself had fulfilled its life span," says Wyatt." Basically, it was time to move on." Any chance they'll open another?
"That's it for the restaurant business," says Wyatt, who plans to spend more time teaching English at the University of Maryland. "Of course, Ann will continue to run the theater."
Any parting remarks? "Thanks for the eight years, Charlottesville," says Wyatt. "It was everything we hoped for and more."
According to the City Assessor's office, OS Realty Inc. bought the 6,000-plus square foot Chi-Chi's building on 29 North back in June for $1.1 million, which is nearly $600,000 below its most recent assessed value.
Who's capitalizing on Chi-Chi's decline? Outback Steakhouse strikes again! In addition to its signature restaurant in the Albemarle Square Shopping Center, and its recently opened Bonefish Grill out in Hollymead, the mega-chain has earmarked the Chi-Chi's space for its Cheeseburger in Paradise franchise.
Cheeseburger's area director, Craig Briggs, says the target opening for the Jimmy Buffett-inspired burger joint is April 25th. In addition to its famous pina coladas and margaritas, says Briggs, Cheeseburger's will also have live acoustic music everyday.
Dan and Charles Epstein plan to open their "fast-casual" restaurant, Eppie's, on March 1.
PHOTO BY DAVE MCNAIR