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Top 10 local food stories of 2012
Kyle Green | The Roanoke Times 2/23/2012 Bruno Silva takes an order during the lunchtime rush at the Bruno’s Gastro Truck parked on the corner of Campbell Avenue and Williamson Road in downtown Roanoke, Virginia. Bruno’s Gastro Truck, sells classy pub fare. Bruno’s is an extension of The Landing restaurant at Smith Mountain Lake, and both are owned by Bruno and Tiffany Silva. They’ve been manning the truck themselves with a little help from other employees.
STEPHANIE KLEIN-DAVIS | The Roanoke Times Photo taken February 13, 2012 Rick Williams purchased a three-acre parcel of land along 10th Street NW that was overgrown with weeds and included a dilapidated and vandalized house. He has cleared the land that is sandwiched between Andrews Road N.W. and Alview Avenue N.W.. These homes are on Alview and back up to the property that Williams is developing into an urban garden.
STEPHANIE KLEIN-DAVIS | The Roanoke Times Photo taken October 12, 2012 Frances Trent, a member of the Peacock-Harper Culinary History Friends, engages in conversation with a table of diners at the " Remembering the Miller & Rhoads Tearoom" luncheon held at the Roanoke Country Club on Friday.
REBECCA BARNETT | The Roanoke Times October 19, 2012 Melissa and Gus Chacknes (cq) of Roanoke County, owners of the Roanoke Weiner Stand, are locked in dispute with Center in the Square over what they said was supposed to be a "turn key" move into their new restaurant. It's been 5.5 months since they closed the downtown store, and the new space is still not ready.
STEPHANIE KLEIN-DAVIS | The Roanoke Times Photo taken September 6, 2012 Louis and Jessica Tudor are closing Tudor's Biscuit World on Church Avenue next Friday, September 14. "The model has broken," Louis Tudor said.
The old structure at 1626 10th Street, formerly Crowell's Nursrey got a recent facelift where owner Rick Williams has plans for an urban farm and market. Photo by Don Petersen
Wednesday, December 26, 2012
It has been an eventful year in the Front Burner column and on the Fridge Magnet blog on roanoke.com.
We have shared more than 100 of our favorite food finds in Southwest Virginia, built a list of favorite sandwiches that would make Dagwood Bumstead proud, and talked about the restaurants we’d miss most if we moved away.
We have celebrated the 75th anniversary of Krispy Kreme doughnuts, debated Chick-fil-A’s stance on gay marriage, and argued over whether Paula Deen is a sympathetic figure or a greedy opportunist.
We’ve been dismayed by the closure of favorite restaurants, eagerly awaited the opening of new ones, and mourned the loss of longtime Roanoke Times restaurant reviewer Dolores Kostelni.
The next year is sure to bring more food news to digest. But before we look ahead, let’s look back at what I have chosen as the top 10 local food stories of 2012.
10. Food trucks
They have been spotted in Roanoke in the past, but this year these restaurants on wheels, which have long been popular in big cities and are profiled on the Cooking Channel TV show “Eat Street,” became more mainstream here.
Two trucks in particular have grabbed the attention of hungry citizens. The Noke Truck, which is painted powder blue and brown, serves crepes and Hispanic fare, while the maroon-and-black Bruno’s GastroTruck (based at The Landing at Smith Mountain Lake) serves gourmet pub-style food. Both trucks park in different spots around Roanoke or the lake, and the only way to know where they’ll be is to follow them on Facebook or Twitter.
I wouldn’t be surprised to see other regular food trucks firing up the Southwest Virginia food scene in 2013.
9. Urban farms
Community gardens and urban farms were in the news this year, as the Roanoke Natural Foods Co-op sought and finally found a location for its own farm behind the Roanoke Center for Industry and Technology.
Also this year, Roanoker Rick Williams started on his plan to turn a blighted 10th Street property into an urban farm with gardens, fruit trees and a farmers market . He had the three acres cleaned of trash and weeds, had two ponds created on the property for water catchment and ecosystem development, and began to renovate the dilapidated 100-year-old house that sits just off the road.
Although he hasn’t started growing crops , Williams said the land has been graded and cover crops have been planted, as well as a few winter vegetables. When spring comes, he plans to start his gardens and wants to open the farmers market.
To people who drive by the property across from Brown-Robertson Park on a regular basis, the most telling sign of change is the house, where the exterior renovation is nearly complete. Instead of a washed-out, crippled shack, passers-by are greeted by a cheerful little abode with orange-and-tan siding.
8. Miller & Rhoads Tearoom luncheon
When the Peacock-Harper Culinary History Friends decided to host a luncheon in remembrance of the Miller & Rhoads Tearoom, they had no idea it would be met with such enthusiasm.
Members of the group knew that, like them, many residents had very fond memories of the ritzy department store in downtown Roanoke where they had spent so much time shopping and dining with friends from the mid-1950s until it closed in 1986.
But the degree of that nostalgia became clear when they added two additional seatings for the luncheon to accommodate some 400 people at Roanoke Country Club.
I solicited memories of the Tearoom for a feature story that ran in early October and was overwhelmed by the response. Everyone agreed that Miller & Rhoads was the epitome of style and service, and although it has been closed for many years it clearly lives on in the memories of many.
7. 202 Market
The downtown Roanoke restaurant and club 202 Market took a ride on a publicity roller coaster in 2012.
In early August, a woman was charged with driving under the influence after she crashed her sport-utility vehicle into the restaurant’s plate-glass windows. About the same time, the 5-year-old business announced the addition of a sports and cigar bar to it s already overflowing plate of options, which include fine dining, casual fare, dancing and a wine cellar.
Also in August, promoters at the restaurant had to cancel a sold-out Chippendales show after learning they had been duped by a fake version of the male erotic dance troupe. But the real Chippendales felt so sorry for the 250 disappointed fans that they decided to send the Las Vegas cast for an authentic performance at the venue.
In October, the business was sued for copyright infringement by New York-based Broadcast Music Inc., which claims 202 hosted live music acts who performed copyrighted songs.
This month started with the opening of 202 Market Square Galleries above the restaurant, in the former Studios in the Square space. Then two weeks ago, 202 Market owner Steve Rosenoff was charged with abduction and sexual assault. He was released on bail, but it looks like 2013 could be another year of ups and downs for the restaurateur.
6. The Isaacs Mediterranean
For about five years, The Isaacs Mediterranean was one of the most popular restaurants in Roanoke’s Grandin Village neighborhood . Regulars loved the healthy yet tasty cuisine, which was served in a beautifully remodeled double storefront on Memorial Avenue.
But multiple problems came to a head this year, when a lawsuit revealed that The Isaacs owners were mired in debt. The property was sold in a late February foreclosure auction. The deal closed several weeks later, and by then the restaurant had closed.
More drama occurred when the new owner, Richard Bishop, took out felony warrants against former tenants Nicole Coleman and Benjamin Ward. The warrants accused Coleman and Ward of stealing light fixtures when they moved out. Those charges were dropped in April, when Roanoke Commonwealth’s Attorney Donald Caldwell said the evidence was “not sufficient to move forward” at that time.
The space is now home to 1906 Ale House, which opened in October.
In related Grandin news, the new owner of Norberto’s, Kevin Jarvis , recently announced that business wasn’t brisk enough in that spot, so he’s closing the 27-year-old restaurant at the end of this year.
5. Roanoke City Market Building
Less than one year after the newly renovated historic Roanoke City Market Building reopened, patrons were calling for change to an interior space they found “sterile and bland.”
In response to the critiques, operators of the market building announced in May that they would add two more kitchen spaces and remove the four centrally positioned retail kiosks. They planned to replace the kiosks with live plants and custom-designed seating that can be transformed into a small stage.
Meanwhile, vendors said they were struggling with poor sales. In September, most of them appeared at a meeting of the market board to share their concerns, which included restrictions on their ability to advertise on the building’s exterior, the required hours of operation on weeknights and Sundays, and a slow response to issues with the building. Rising food and utility costs and a massive construction project across the street from the market building have not helped.
I noticed recently that commercials for the market building are airing on local television. Perhaps that will help to make 2013 a more prosperous year for the vendors.
4. Roanoke Weiner Stand
Scores of locals waited with serious hot dog cravings this year for the iconic Roanoke Weiner Stand to reopen in downtown Roanoke.
The Weiner Stand closed in May to make way for part of Center in the Square’s $27 million renovation. Owners Gus and Melissa Chacknes hoped to reopen quickly in a new space around the corner, but arguments between the owners and Center over the condition of the new space caused a major delay.
The two parties disagreed over what work was needed to make the space move-in ready and who was responsible for paying those costs. The Chackneses and Center both aired their concerns to the media in October, but by November they were well on their way to working through the stalemate.
Much to the delight of fans, the Weiner Stand reopened Nov. 23.
Most folks in Southwest Virginia had never heard the term “derecho” until June 29, when it became pretty clear to all of us that we never wanted to see another one.
The scary, damaging storm left millions of people across the Mid-Atlantic region without power, and some had to do without electricity for days. The result was not only miserable living conditions in sweltering heat, but also devastating food losses.
This disaster was felt by restaurant owners and homeowners alike. The amount of food that went from refrigerators and freezers to landfills was mind-boggling. It had a nasty financial impact on folks who had lots of inventory in their walk-in restaurant coolers, not to mention residents who had freezers full of meat, preserved summer produce and other items meant to get them through fall and winter.
Some business owners lost thousands of dollars to the derecho while homeowners — including myself — are still reaching for staples only to realize we have not yet replaced them.
2. Restaurant openings
This year brought some pretty exciting restaurant openings to Southwest Virginia, ranging from fast-food to fine dining.
The North Carolina-based chain Cook-Out made a significant push into this market, opening locations in Blacksburg and Fairlawn. They’re also building a location on Hershberger Road in Roanoke, just a stone’s throw from the site of a highly anticipated Steak ’n’ Shake.
Other restaurant openings in Roanoke this year include Beamer’s, a Virginia Tech sports-themed restaurant specializing in gourmet burgers; Billy’s, the next generation of what was the hugely popular Billy’s Ritz; and the Wasena City Taproom, a new baby for the owners of Wildflour on Fourth Street in Old Southwest.
In addition, The River and Rail opened in South Roanoke, brokers are seeking proposals for a restaurant near Carilion Roanoke Memorial Hospital, and Center in the Square hopes to lease space to a rooftop restaurant.
Those are just the most high-profile openings; plenty of smaller places have popped up in Southwest Virginia. Unfortunately, we have also lost a lot of restaurants this year, which leads me to …
1. Restaurant closings
The food service industry is notoriously volatile, but this year it seemed as if restaurant closings happened at an alarming rate.
Several of the closures were well-known, long-established restaurants . They include Tudor’s Biscuit World, The Library, Little Chef, Arzu and Norberto’s . Arzu was the youngest at 16 years; Little Chef had been serving people for 55 years.
Most of the restaurateurs cited the economy as a factor in the closings, but throughout the year I heard from readers who said they didn’t think that was the whole story. I believe the economy has had a major impact on these businesses, especially given the rising prices of food and utilities, but I also agree there’s more involved.
Some restaurant owners were burned out. Some diners became bored with what their favorite restaurants offered. In some cases, construction curbed business or buildings were sold from under tenants.
Perhaps this is also a generational shift. This is a country where diners have become increasingly knowledgeable about food and are interested in different cuisines and local sourcing, which is a boon for new restaurants but not so good for some of the old stalwarts where nothing has changed in decades.
With any luck, 2013 will bring a stronger economy, where families feel they can afford to treat themselves to restaurant meals more often. I hope it also brings renewed energy and a creative burst to overworked restaurateurs.
On the blog
What food stories are you looking forward to in 2013? Share them on my Fridge Magnet blog at blogs.roanoke.com/fridgemagnet.
Coming next week: The best 12 recipes of 2012.
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