Two decades ago, Justin Garrison was a teen working in local kitchens to pay his car insurance. Now he’s one of the area’s farm-to-fork gurus with a brand new venture that has folks buzzing in Purcellville and beyond.
The self-taught Loudoun native opened West End Wine Bar & Pub in Purcellville this week after establishing his locavore chops as executive chef at the Wine Kitchen and its sister eatery WK Hearth.
“Our philosophy here is to continue the movement of eating fresh, eating local, keeping things approachable,” Garrison said. “We want to support local agriculture.”
West End owners Larry Johnson and Brenda Daeschner brought Garrison on board this summer to help them get things rolling in the historic yellow building on Purcellville’s western boundary, where a number of restaurants have operated over the years.
And the excitement among locals has been building over the past six months.
“The ‘coming soon’ sign has been up for too long,” Johnson said with a laugh. “There’s this built up curiosity, anticipation.”
The dual-concept West End features a wine bar and restaurant upstairs and an “innovative gastropub” below, Garrison said. Both levels offer a range of creative starters and shared plates, with higher-end seasonal entrees upstairs and contemporary pub fare below. Examples of the fare include a sloppy joe made from smoked brisket with homemade sauce and bun and a “southern croque monsieur” featuring fried green tomatoes and pimento cheese.
Garrison says he’s looking to appeal both to foodies (from Loudoun and beyond) looking for something a little different and regulars looking for classic comfort food with a fresh twist.
“We’re taking things that people know but just modernizing them a little bit,” Garrison said. “We really wanted to make the program here approachable and trustworthy. … Once you build people’s trust they’re going to come back, and they may be willing to try something that they normally won’t.”
The building, which dates to around 1915, has housed a string of restaurants over the decades—from the Purcellville Inn to Stonewall Tavern to the popular Italian eatery Candelora’s—before being converted to office space in 2005. And in an interesting twist, Garrison’s first chef de cuisine post was at Candelora’s, which opened at the same location in 1999.
“It’s kind of strange, the full circle,” he said.
After his stint at Candelora’s, Garrison and wife, Julie, headed to Charleston, SC, where he worked with acclaimed Southern chef Fred Neuville before launching his own restaurant on Isle of Palms, Barefoot Bistro, specializing in low country cuisine. The Charleston experience honed his love for all things local.
“Trucks would pull up with local produce. You’d take what you wanted and you’d put it on the menu that week,” Garrison said. “While that was occurring, a lot of that was beginning up here. I’ve been able to continue that movement supporting local farms as much as possible.”
The couple began contemplating a move back to Virginia seven years ago when their daughter Autumn was born. Garrison got the Wine Kitchen gig, eventually running the kitchens at both the Leesburg and Purcellville locations. He spent a productive six years at the successful eateries—developing creative menus and building relationships with area farmers.
“It’s in my blood now—seasonal ingredients and doing less with them is better than doing more,” he said.
As Garrison considered moving on from the Wine Kitchen, he was thinking of something closer to DC to allow for the kind of culinary experimentation he craved. But his meeting with Daeschner and Johnson—business partners and old friends—convinced him that Loudoun is ready for what he has to offer.
“[Justin’s] background was perfect,” said Johnson, who bought the building in 2014 and began renovations. The restaurant offers 40 seats downstairs, 70 seats upstairs, and a 40-seat patio when weather permits. “He’s ambitious, he’s creative. He has a passion for doing things right and doing them well.”
The West End team includes sommelier Ellie Bufkin, who returned to her native Purcellville after training under culinary giants like Thomas Keller and Wolfgang Puck to run the restaurant’s wine and beer programs. These include 14 wines by the glass and a dozen craft beers on tap. And Garrison has found a kindred spirit in his young executive sous chef Tad Winegar, another Loudoun native who, like Garrison, sowed his culinary oats in exotic locales before returning home.
“Essentially that’s what chefs do. They get a wealth of information and they apply it to themselves and they put their spin on it,” Garrison said. “The key is to take that original and to make it delicious.”
Learn more at West End’s Facebook page.