What’s a community to do when a popular neighborhood watering hole suddenly shutters, leaving locals without a gathering place to catch up over cold beverages?
In Lovettsville’s case, a group of townies are undertaking the cause to open their own Cheers-like establishment. Their goal, they said, is to have a place where everybody knows your name, but also offer a variety of excellent local craft beers accompanied by delicious, high-quality, but reasonably priced “gastropub” fare.
The team’s vision is tantalizingly close to fruition, according to Joe Brower, an investment partner in the group who will serve as the day-to-day general manager of 1836 Kitchen & Taproom (1836 was the year Virginia formally recognized Lovettsville as a town).
The eatery replaces the former Mad Horse Brew Pub. The latter went through several iterations (and owners) before closing for good in February. Brower said once final inspections are complete, the gastropub will open either the first or second week of September, just in time for the town’s heavily attended Oktoberfest festival that runs Sept. 22-24.
The team is targeting Tuesday, Sept. 12, for a soft opening.
In with the new
Brower, a Lovettsville resident, has three decades of experience in the restaurant business, working as a business executive for the California Pizza Kitchen and P.F. Chang’s national chains. He opened dozens of establishments across the Mid-Atlantic region and brought those experiences to bear redesigning virtually every aspect of the new gastropub.
The first thing he did was hire an accomplished local chef, Jeremy Thrasher, 31, who worked for four years at the celebrated Wine Kitchen in Leesburg. For the past two years, Thrasher and his business partner owned and operated the Cured food truck, whose creative menu offerings were popular with the local winery and craft brewery crowds. Despite a successful two-year run, his business partner decided to devote more time to family. The long hours and ever-shifting locations of the business had taken its toll. They shut down last March.
Thrasher said he’s excited to deliver his culinary vision, which he’s been honing since first stepping into a kitchen at the age of 14, to a physical location in a town he knows well. He said the best two days of his food truck business was working the Lovettsville Oktoberfest festival.
“The food truck was great. We had a lot of fun and it was a positive experience, but I’m glad to be back in a kitchen that doesn’t tilt at the wheels,” he said, laughing.
Similar to Thrasher’s food truck offerings, his menu will highlight mostly local ingredients that evolve and change with the seasons. The gastropub will also feature traditional German dishes as a tribute to the town’s rich German heritage. He says the cuisine, which will offer a wide selection of appetizers and be sandwich-centric, will additionally be influenced by the steady rotation of local beer. In fact, he’s developed an intensive training program to help servers make knowledgeable pairing suggestions for guests.
“We definitely want to be a neighborhood place, but also serve great beers and delicious food at a good price for the community,” he said. Despite the growing western Loudoun restaurant scene, he said, “We think we’ll have our own successful niche.”
Brower and his team also decided to rip out the guts of the building, which had historically served the community as a funeral home before the Mad Horse Brew Pub opened in 2012. Gone is the beer-making equipment, whose products never quite delivered because of temperature challenges (since fixed) and size constraints. The brewing space was expanded and built-out as a sparkling new commercial kitchen. The rest of the gastropub, from the interior decor, to the bar, tables and chairs, will have a look uniquely its own, he said.
Focused on beer and good eats
“Many of our investors were regulars at the former place, so they know firsthand why it was so popular with locals,” Brower said.
He said his team will honor and promote that loyalty while also putting their own distinctive stamp on the place. While the focus is still on beer and camaraderie, gone are the days of microwave- and toaster-oven-driven noshing. The food they’ll offer, he said, will be delicious, generous, and relevant to the beers.
Twelve taps will rotate a diverse selection of local, state and regional beers. But their emphasis will unquestioningly showcase Loudoun’s brewery offerings, Brower said. For months, he and his partners have visited and tasted the products of several Loudoun breweries. He said he’s impressed by the superb quality of the beer and will devote nine of the 12 taps to their products, if available. Loudoun craft breweries face a host of complex legal, operational, and economic challenges distributing kegs of their beer to restaurants and bars, according to Kellie Hinkle, agricultural development officer for Loudoun County’s office of economic development.
The gastropub will initially open for dinner 4-10 p.m., seven days a week. Brower said that, like a lot of new restaurants, they want to work through the inevitable kinks and wrinkles that pop up with a new establishment. He’s especially committed to ensuring the gastropub is ready to serve the crush of business that will descend on them during Oktoberfest.
Once operations hit smooth sailing, their plan is to finalize a lunch schedule and remain open until 11 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays.
The one thing Brower is not worried about is the problems often associated with a restaurant’s absentee ownership.
“The majority of our investors are locals,” he said. “We have more than just a passing connection to the place. Some of us will be there every day. Not just as investors making sure things are great for our guests, but also to enjoy great beer and food with our community.”