At Gilbert’s Corner: Good Friends, Fresh Food

For two decades, hungry travelers have stopped their cars for fresh seafood and tasty lobster rolls from the Great Maine Lobster Company at Gilbert’s Corner.

The lobster stand is a roadside fixture at the crossroads of Rt. 15 and Rt. 50 on Loudoun’s southern edge. Now, locals and tourists can also get an authentic chocolate eclair or some locally famous barbecue, pick up fresh vegetables and even pick their own strawberries and pumpkins in season at the same spot. The Gilbert’s Corner Market is a food lover’s dream, and a tight-knit group of local vendors are the corner’s heart and soul.

Thomas Finnegan, 31, took over the lobster business when his uncle Christian Flemming, the company’s free-spirited founder, died unexpectedly in early 2015. He’s picked up where Flemming left off, serving a devoted following of regulars and folks just passing through.

“It’s definitely a good mix. We have people that have been coming since my uncle was out there the first year, and we also have people who are traveling,” Finnegan said.

The market is evolving, vendors say, and the current anchor is Pit Stop BBQ—where owner Ron Thomas draws crowds with his celebrated barbecue and engaging personality. There’s always a line and fans are willing to wait for an hour or more—a boon for fellow producers.

“There are people who are standing in the barbecue line which can take some time, and they’ll get a lobster roll to eat in line,” Finnegan said.

Flemming began sourcing Maine lobster in the 1990s through family in New England and set up shop at the heavily traveled intersection on a whim through an arrangement with the property’s previous owner.
“They thought he was crazy but he tried it, and it worked,” Finnegan said. “I wanted to keep his legacy alive.”

Finnegan, who has a degree in criminology, worked for his uncle after college and took over in 2015. He sells a mix of fresh seafood and prepared meals—including live lobsters, fresh clams, mussels and oysters. The company’s DIY lobster roll kits (self-assembled for freshness) are popular, especially with folks heading to local wineries to the north and west.

‘We’re Friends’

In recent years, the market has brought on produce from Wegmeyer Farms, whose owners operate pick-your-own strawberry and pumpkin patches on leased land behind the market, along with Berryville’s Fun Country Kettle Corn and Ghost Pepper Salsa from Leesburg-based Garden Lodge Fresh.

And if dessert is your thing, you won’t be disappointed.

When Arnaud Herodet left his job as head pastry chef for the French Embassy in Washington, DC, after 18 years, he was looking for the right outlet for his handcrafted treats. Herodet, who lives in Chantilly, found himself traveling up and down Rt. 50 to visit friends in Loudoun and was intrigued by the market. He launched Arno’s Pastry and came on board at the corner in 2013.

Herodet now draws a crowd every weekend for French classics like lemon meringue tarts, chocolate eclairs, cream puffs, chilled chocolate or mango mousse and colorful macarons. He has since signed on to two other markets, but says Gilbert’s Corner is his bread and butter. Herodet relies on word of mouth from regular customers along with tourist traffic and chalks up the market’s success to a few elements, including Loudoun’s growth and the tourist appeal of Middleburg and western Loudoun wineries.
Herodet said visitors are drawn by the thoughtful mix of complementary vendors—and the sense of camaraderie at the market. The vendors who spend almost 50 weekends a year together, he said, really like each other.

“We’re all nice, and people like that,” Herodet said. “We’re friends. We get along. And [the market managers] have kept it small. … It’s intimate.”

Thomas Finnegan’s family has operated the Great Maine Lobster Company, serving fresh seafood, at Gilbert’s Corner for two decades. [Renss Greene/Loudoun Now]

Agriculture-Fueled Preservation

Scott Kasprowicz, whose company owns the 30-acre corner tract and who runs the market with two associates, chalks that sense of teamwork up in part to the market’s year-round model, with producers braving the elements together across four seasons.

“It’s very synergistic,” he said. “‘They’re together through thick and thin.”

Kasprowicz helped pilot the Wegmeyer partnership, which expanded the well-known Hamilton-based farm’s you-pick pumpkin and strawberry operations to Gilbert’s Corner. Kasprowicz’s goal is to make the market even more of an outlet for local farmers and producers, boosting fruit and vegetable offerings and adding local eggs and dairy.

It’s all pretty cool considering that the corner almost became a strip mall.

Kasprowicz formed Green Projects LLC to buy the land in 2004, with a goal of preserving the parcel from planned development. That purchase was in line with efforts by the Piedmont Environmental Council and other groups to maintain the agricultural character of the Gilbert’s Corner area and the western stretch of Rt. 50, said Mike Kane, director of conservation for Loudoun and northern Fauquier counties at the PEC. The entire corner, once slated for houses and retail, is now parkland, farmland and a showcase for local producers.

The PEC owns the 141-acre Roundabout Meadows farm just east of Gilbert’s Corner, which was donated to the nonprofit in 2014. The organization is leasing that land to two cattle farmers while making improvements to soil and water quality on site. Kane said the group is looking into growing fruits and vegetables on one section of the farm near the market and adding an educational component to the farm. Just east of the market on Rt. 50, the Northern Virginia Park Authority operates the 155-acre Gilbert’s Corner Regional Park and Mt. Zion Historic Park across the road to the south.

For Kane, it’s a perfect way to welcome visitors to Loudoun as the county looks to promote itself as an agro-tourism hub.

“The whole rural landscape opens up for you,” Kane said. “I talk to people and they consistently say, ‘When I get to that point, I know I’m in the country.’ It has a complete psychological effect on people. It informs the reason why this is a spot where we need to bring everything we have in terms of our conservation work and promoting the notion that it’s an entry, a point of departure—that you’re entering a different landscape. Welcome and taste the bounty.”

The Gilbert’s Corner Market sits at the intersection of Rt. 15 and Rt. 50 in Aldie and is open Saturdays and Sundays from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. For more information, go to facebook.com/gilbertscorner.

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