‘Tuskies’ Hits 30: Leesburg’s Fine Dining Pioneer

When Tuscarora Mill opened in 1985 in the then-new Market Station retail and office complex, perhaps no one could have foreseen the huge success that the restaurant now affectionately called “Tuskies” would enjoy over the next three decades.

That success is marked by an attractive and innovative setting, good food and libations, shrewd management and a loyal and experienced staff.

The Beginning

Today, Leesburg has a long list of eateries—fast food chains, boutique and specialty diners, ethnic restaurants and a number of fine dining restaurants.

It was a different world in 1985.

Founder Kevin Malone is now president of the Tuskies Restaurant Group of five eating establishments, but he recalls only a few stalwarts from three decades ago, including MacDonald’s and Johnson’s House of Beef.

UNITED STATES - December 17, 2015 : Owner Kevin Malone at his Tuscarora Mill Restaurant, also known as "Tuskies" in downtown Leesburg Virginia at Market Station during an interview about the restaurant's 30th anniversary. (Photo by Douglas Graham/Loudoun Now)
UNITED STATES – December 17, 2015 : Owner Kevin Malone at his Tuscarora Mill Restaurant, also known as “Tuskies” in downtown Leesburg Virginia at Market Station during an interview about the restaurant’s 30th anniversary. (Photo by Douglas Graham/Loudoun Now)

“Someone told me the best kept secret in town was the food at the bowling alley,” Malone quipped during a recent interview.

He was beaten to the post in establishing a fine dining restaurant by his friend Chef Kimmery “Kim” Jordan, who opened “Jordan’s” French restaurant in 1984 on West Loudoun Street. The two, who worked together in a French restaurant in Fauquier County, had talked about opening a restaurant together in Leesburg. But they disagreed on the way forward and parted company amicably.

“He didn’t want to use credit cards; he said they’d lose money for him—I said, ‘they make you money,’” Malone said.

Then Malone heard about late Loudoun builder Bruce Brownell’s plan for Market Station, which would be created by moving some of the town’s historic industrial and commercial structures and putting them to new use.

Malone saw the designs and was immediately captivated, although admittedly he was unimpressed when he first saw the rundown McKimmey’s feed store that would become home to his new venture. A former train station building now houses Tuskies Restaurant Group’s Fire Works Pizza. Malone believed in Brownell’s vision and soon he was negotiating with Brownell and architect Beck Dickerson on the project.

Dickerson, who co-owned the building with Brownell originally, said, “Tuskies was critical because we needed an anchor tenant. They were key to Market Station’s success.”

There were times when the vision was hard to see.

Early in 1985, a kitchen designer came from Washington, DC, to inspect the old building. He arrived in a black Cadillac and was wearing a full-length, black camel coat, Malone recalled. “When he came out, he was covered in grain dust and pigeon poop.”

UNITED STATES - December 17, 2015 : Tuscarora Mill Restaurant, also known as "Tuskies" in downtown Leesburg Virginia at Market Station is set for the restaurant's 30th anniversary. (Photo by Douglas Graham/Loudoun Now)
UNITED STATES – December 17, 2015 : Tuscarora Mill Restaurant, also known as “Tuskies” in downtown Leesburg Virginia at Market Station is set for the restaurant’s 30th anniversary. (Photo by Douglas Graham/Loudoun Now)

Today, Brownell’s marriage of old grain mill machinery—weighing scales, roller belts, pulleys and giant wheels—suspended high in the ceiling space with stylish modern lighting and décor continues to dazzle and embrace at the same time. “Bruce was unbelievably creative,” Malone said.

The impact of Tuskies and the Market Station complex on Leesburg was “huge” and put the town on the map, according to several who recall those days.

According to Leesburg Realtor Tom Jewell, “If it hadn’t been for Bruce doing the project and landing Tuskies as a destination spot, there would be no Leesburg as we know it today—it became the instant social center.”

Others, including former Town Councilman Stanley Caulkins, said with its capacity for large seatings in private rooms, Tuskies expanded the scope of eating in town and greatly added “to the ambience of Leesburg.”

Commercial Realtor Don Devine, who grew up in Leesburg, recalled Tuskies as “the first Clyde’s type restaurant to come to Leesburg, and it did nothing but good for the town.”

Creating The Right Environment

“When we opened, people said it was ‘a breath of fresh air,’” Malone said. It was also the first restaurant to have a large bar area—around which patrons cluster, chat with head bartender Gerry Waldron, and enjoy a relaxed atmosphere in the informal part of the restaurant.

People like the mix of old and the new as well as its all-American contemporary cuisine, Malone said. And he soon formed a good staff.

“I’d been in the restaurant business since high school, and I hired great people, who were self-starters. They quickly got the hang of their jobs and took off from there,” Malone said.

An imposing figure of a man, Malone nevertheless has a light management touch, believing that if you train people well, their potential capabilities will surface.

UNITED STATES - December 17, 2015 : Tuscarora Mill Restaurant, also known as "Tuskies" in downtown Leesburg Virginia at Market Station is set for the restaurant's 30th anniversary. (Photo by Douglas Graham/Loudoun Now)
UNITED STATES – December 17, 2015 : Tuscarora Mill Restaurant, also known as “Tuskies” in downtown Leesburg Virginia at Market Station is set for the restaurant’s 30th anniversary. (Photo by Douglas Graham/Loudoun Now)

Three employees have been with Malone since the beginning—Waldron, Banquet Manager Angela Deane and wine guru Mark Carreiro. Deane and Carreiro are married and came with Malone from Fauquier County to start the new venture. Twenty-two other employees have been with him for more than 20 years, including Executive Chef Patrick Dinh and Dining Room Manager John Daniel.

Malone attributes much of the success of his business to his wife, Kathleen. “She’s a major part of it all. She’s patient and calm, and gives me lots of good advice.”

The Employees’ Take

Malone nabbed Waldron for the job when someone told him, “I’ve got a great bartender for you.”

Thirty years later, Waldron still reigns supreme in the bar, known for his knowledge and conviviality alike.

Malone’s brother, Shawn, was also in the restaurant business. He joined Tuskies in about its fifth year as kitchen manager before graduating to overall manager. It was Shawn who opened Tuskies’ second restaurant venture—also in space built by Brownell—Magnolias at the Mill, in Purcellville. He is a co-owner of that restaurant.

Deane recalled she and Carreiro were “very excited” to join Malone in his new venture. “There are not too many downs about Kevin. He’s a very good boss and gives me all the tools I need to do my job,” she said, adding that trait provides Malone with a very loyal staff. She became banquet manager about 19 years ago.

“I remember the smell of the place when we first opened, and the lighting—it was lovely—and when I came in I was blown away,” she said.

At first, Carreiro was a combined dining room manager and waiter. But, for the past 28 years, he’s been Malone’s “wine genius” and buyer. He spends much of his time traveling—to the West Coast and also abroad—as well as keeping up with regional wine classes.

Carreiro has similar wine tastes to his boss. “We look for good value—whether it be a $20 bottle or one at $400. It has to be good quality, and we look for small producers of high quality wine, not common household names.”

Through his meticulous searches, Carreiro said he’s been lucky enough to find varietals no one’s ever heard of, but that then draw big fans. He takes time to explain the wine—and extensive beer—lists to patrons and make recommendations.
Executive Chef Dinh is the “biggest foodie you’ll meet,” Malone said, lauding his calm and professionalism as he oversees a staff of 28. The two men see eye to eye on food. “We share a lot of the same tastes, and we like simplicity done well—that’s really, really key,” Dinh said.

Dinh came to Tuskies 23 years ago, after answering a classified ad in The Washington Post.

At first, Dinh said he faced a steep learning curve. “It was my first true chef’s job—and I was way in over my head.”

When he moved to Leesburg, Malone told him, “You live here, you should go find out what’s out here.” That was the beginning of the restaurant’s push to pioneer the use of local products in its menus.

Dinh at first was unimpressed. “I found sad potatoes and squirrelly carrots,” he recalled.

But he looked farther afield and started working with then-Loudoun Agricultural Officer Warren Howell on dinners using local products. “They were a big hit,” he said.

Dinh loves working with Malone. “He’s very patient, and allows me to experiment and make mistakes—a lot of others won’t,” Dinh said. Malone will even “ask me to buy something obscure, like ground camel, to see what I can do with it.”

Dinh seeks feedback—from the wait staff and from patrons. “It’s so important to hear the good and the bad, if you want it to get better.”

Listening to patrons over the years has formed some great relationships. As an example of Tuskie’s own loyalty to its faithful diners, when one of its most constant patrons, the late Gus Eyssell, died, Malone paid tribute to him. Waiters set a table, exactly as the fastidious Eyssell liked it, and put a lone candle in the middle of the table. No one was seated at the table for three days.

Growth

Five years after opening, Malone added a deck at the rear of the restaurant that eventually was enclosed. He also added a private dining room below.

The first new venture was the downstairs bakery, South Street Under. Opened 14 years ago, Malone said it was originally intended only to serve in a supply capacity for the restaurant.

The bakery has an affectionate additional name—“Beth Street,” after its longtime manager Beth Reed, whom Malone called “the heart and soul of the place.”

Almost 12 years ago, Malone opened his second restaurant—Magnolias at the Mill, in the old Contee Adams Seed Mill in Purcellville. A much larger space than Tuskies, Magnolias has become a dining anchor in Purcellville.

When Brownell first tried to get Malone interested in launching in Purcellville, he responded, “Bruce, when there’s more people in town than cows, come talk to me.”

Brownell called Malone later, saying, “Guess what? I just counted more people than cows.”

A third Market Station site also opened—Fire Works Pizza, in the former train station. Shawn Malone and Dinh are co-owners.

The fifth dining spot to open was the Arlington Fire Works Pizza.

And who’s to say that’s the last?

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