RADFORD — BT’s Restaurant prides itself on being a town and gown establishment and its new owners say that — or anything else, really — won’t change under their watch.
Tom Whitehead opened the restaurant in 1983 on Tyler Avenue right across the street from Radford University.
“It was the first place that integrated the local people with the college people,” he said. “A lot of people were skeptical that it could be done. It worked and it worked quite well.”
Whitehead, 74, said that he’s been looking for an exit strategy for some time now, but wanted to make sure that the restaurant remained open and true to its roots. He said he saw an opportunity for that to happen recently when two of his friends — both former BT’s employees — started expressing an interest in purchasing the place.
Blacksburg residents Todd and Kelsi Jones worked at the hangout known for its good food and inexpensive drinks while attending Radford University on and off in the 1990s and early-mid 2000s. Both began working as servers before ultimately taking on management roles.
The Joneses said they got to know the Whiteheads well during that time and maintained a relationship as friends since.
“They’ve always had the running joke of ‘oh when Todd and Kelsi run BT’s,’ but then the talks got a little more serious about a year ago,” Kelsi said.
The parties involved did not disclose the sale price. The most recently available tax assessed value for the property is $578,800.
Kelsi Jones, 40, a registered nurse who most recently worked at Harding Avenue Elementary School in Blacksburg, will run the day-to-day operations, while Todd Jones, 43, will continue working at Alcon, a medical company specializing in eye care products. Todd said he will be at the restaurant on evenings and weekends but his day job will be his main focus.
“This has been a great place for the city and we plan on keeping that tradition alive,” he said.
Friends and regulars gathered at BT’s Tuesday evening for a goodbye/welcome party for the former and current owners. Some of the patrons there, such as Frank Osborne, 83, were excited that the Joneses were taking over the establishment he frequents at least two to three times a week.
Osborne was the first customer Thursday, the Joneses’ first day running the restaurant, according to the BT’s Facebook page. He said when he found out BT’s — which stands for Bill and Tom’s — was being sold, the first question he had was whether the new owners were going to bulldoze it or not.
He said his mind was quickly put at ease when he found out who the new owners were.
“It was exactly what I wanted to hear,” he said.
Whitehead still owns the buildings next to BT’s and said that he will be available to help the Joneses with whatever they need. He was also proud that BT’s had its highest grossing year in nearly a decade last year, so he was leaving the place on a high note.
“I’m a hands-on guy, so I’ll be around until they don’t want me there anymore,” he joked.
Diane Whitehead described the sale as a dream scenario for her and her husband.
“We couldn’t have found a better couple to sell to,” she said.
Todd Jones said that he and his wife’s philosophy on running the place will be fairly simple: “If it’s not broken, why fix it?”