The sign is up and the shucking is about to begin at the much-anticipated King Street Oyster Bar in Leesburg.
Business partners Rick Allison and Jorge E. Esguerra are on a mission to bring some urban cool (without a huge price tag) to the downtown area and to add its burgeoning post-5 p.m. life.
Allison, known to many Loudouners as owner of the popular comfort food joint Pittsburgh Rick’s, is tight lipped about the menu and was still ironing out some last-minute construction and permitting details when he sat down with Loudoun Now last week. But his plan is to open the restaurant with a limited menu in time for this weekend’s Leesburg Flower and Garden Festival.
For Allison, the oyster bar is a welcome return to the love of seafood he honed during a stint at Annapolis’ celebrated Café Normandie and a chance to fill what he sees as a gap in high quality seafood in Loudoun.
“I spent a lot of time near the water in Annapolis and just loved seafood,” he said. “Northern Virginia, in my opinion, doesn’t have a lot of seafood options.”
But Allison says he’s aware of some folks’ skittishness about seafood and will offer a broader American menu including steak, chicken, soups and salad, with the idea of giving guests choices while encouraging them to experiment with seafood.
Allison says he also envisions the oyster bar as a meeting place with a top-notch drinks program and a neighborhood feel. Crews have been renovating the South King Street building, which previously housed a travel
agency and then the Cooley Gallery, for several months. The new restaurant features an understated nautical décor, seating in street front window bays and a hand-hewn wood bar from Berryville’s Local Wood.
The restaurant will seat around 50 with space for another 25 on the patio in back. The oyster bar itself is set to arrive at the restaurant this week and will seat four people for an up-close view of the shucking action.
“Overall, it should be a really good feel when people walk into this place. In my opinion, it’s the best ‘wow factor’ for a small place that we have in Leesburg. No one has 15-foot ceilings for a small place,” Allison said. “We also added some features in the window that no one else is doing. It kind of gives it a Georgetown feel when you’re sitting on the street.”
But while the ambiance might scream Georgetown, the prices won’t, Allison said.
He is going for a relaxed vibe and reasonable prices. He’s planning a lot
of specials—including happy hours with $5 menu items and deals on drinks and food, half price raw bar every day from 3 to 7 p.m. and weekly ladies’ nights on Wednesdays. The restaurant will also sell steamed crabs and shrimp to go.
“We want you to come back,” Allison said. “We want you to feel like this is a great price, a great atmosphere, very reasonable and come back once a week, come back twice a week instead of being that special occasion place.”
The bar program—developed in consultation with D.J. Suan, a Northern Virginia superstar bartender, along with bar manager Ward Brewer—will feature creative cocktails like a smoked pineapple margarita, along with a food-friendly wine and beer list.
Allison, a Pittsburgh native, developed a love of cooking through his Italian grandmother who owned a bar and grill in his hometown. He remembers making pasta and sauce at her side every Sunday and credits her with his passion for cooking.
After graduating from the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, NY, he headed south for his gig in Annapolis and positions in the Washington, DC, area working for regional chains, including Great American Restaurants and Clyde’s Restaurant Group.
Allison opened The Dock at Lansdowne in 2006 but closed it in 2011 before breaking on to the scene in downtown Leesburg in 2014 with Pittsburgh Rick’s, known for a casual atmosphere and Pittsburgh-style sandwiches loaded with fresh fries. Allison has had even more success with his Pittsburgh Rick’s food truck, a regular at area breweries and Northern Virginia concert venues.
But when the space in the heart of Leesburg’s downtown opened up, Allison jumped at the chance to return to his passion for seafood. And Leesburg foodies have been buzzing since he first announced his plans over a year ago.
The oyster bar will create one more option for residents hungry for specialized, non-chain restaurants, said Leesburg resident Vicky Noufal, co-
owner of Platinum Group Real Estate and creator of the I Love Leesburg VA Facebook page which boasts nearly 2,000 followers.
“Any time I post anything related to restaurants, breweries and things that will liven up the town, the majority are very enthusiastic. That’s what people want to see,” Noufal said. “People love the uniqueness of Leesburg.”
And Allison, like his friend Chris Cooley (who moved his gallery up the street after he purchased a building across from the Loudoun County Court House) and many other downtown business owners, is intent on helping grow Leesburg’s nightlife.
“We want to do something special in Leesburg,” Allison said.