The growth of downtown Leesburg’s dining industry has shined the light on a new generation of industry innovators.
Among them, the husband and wife team Nils and Olivia Schnibbe are no strangers to the restaurant scene, having worked at, managed, and, in Nils’ case, owned establishments throughout the historic downtown. The two met at their former place of employment—a restaurant, of course.
So now one year into their newlywed bliss, with a baby on the way, they have sunk their teeth into several new projects that will continue to keep them busy, and keep Leesburg’s and greater Loudoun’s loyal diners coming back for more.
Nils Schibbe was one of two business partners behind Captain Catoctin’s Crabs & Concoctions, which made its debut in the mid-summer. But as the nights now turn colder, Captain’s season has ended and Schnibbe, now operating the business on his own, has decided to re-brand the East Loudoun Street restaurant with a new concept. While the details have not completely been worked out, loyal patrons need not fret: a short-term solution is on the horizon.
Fa La La will debut in Captain’s space on Thanksgiving week. The pop-up Christmas-themed bar will be fully decked out in festive holiday decorations and feature specialty themed cocktails. Just as with an Advent calendar, every day there will be a new surprise for visitors. A Christmas Market-style menu will include giant pretzels, bratwurst, hot cider, hot chocolate, mulled wine, and more.
Another new project, just around the block is SideBar Restaurant, to be located at 24 and 26 South King St. The restaurant is the first signature project of Olivia Schnibbe, and an eatery that caters to the masses—from breakfast to lunch to happy hour to dinner time to late night—is envisioned. The property gives Schnibbe the opportunity to rent out event space in a rear building off King Street that formerly served as a carriage house for bridal showers or rehearsal dinners. The buildings fronting King Street will house SideBar’s three bars and kitchen and seating area, to including neighboring Blue Mountain Cafe, a space the Schnibbes have signed on to take over the lease. The Jamaican restaurant will close Nov. 18.
At SideBar, guests can enjoy everything from to-go breakfast sandwiches and coffee beverages, served in a convenient, on-the-street, to-go window, to take out salads and sandwiches for lunch. Dining seating will also be available for all meals, for those looking for a sit-down experience. The happy hour menu will roll out about 4 p.m., with different specials every week, Schnibbe said. On Thursdays, SideBar will host “Cocktail Wars” where two new cocktails every week will compete for regular rotation on the drink menu. The dinner menu will feature dishes including scallops and pork shank, with different offerings on the bar side for happy hour like tater tots with smoked Gouda and bacon. Brunch will be served on the weekends.
They eye a Dec. 1 opening for SideBar, where they will start with a light menu and cocktails.
“We’ll ease our way into it of seeing what patrons like and what patrons want more of,” Olivia Schnibbe said.
In addition to her husband, she will have as her right-hand woman Aislin Kavaldjian, most recently the assistant general manager of Delirium Café, who will serve as her GM.
Having Kavaldjian involved in the project has been a godsend of sorts for Schnibbe, pointing to her GM’s beer acumen and experience. Acknowledging that she’ll need to take some time off with the birth of her first baby in a few months, Schnibbe said she knows she will leave SideBar in good hands.
“That’s why I don’t feel totally psycho doing this,” she joked. “Our minds of design and style are completely in sync. That’s why I trust her to be the GM. When she became available to do this it’s the biggest breath I ever took of relief.”
“Olivia and Ais have their finger on the pulse of what’s happening,” Nils Schnibbe said.
The goal for all their employees, Olivia Schnibbe said, is not only for them to embrace their roles in their restaurants, but to allow for opportunities to branch out on their own. Another new Schnibbe venture, food truck SunDay Chicken, is a good example. The new operation pairs Nils Schnibbe with Christopher Peters, who he most recently worked with at Captain Catoctin’s.
“What we were going for was trying to get something not over-the-top fancy, not as niche as some of these other food trucks,” Peters said.
“Something that appeals to the masses,” Nils Schnibbe added.
What SunDay Chicken offers is a no-nonsense, back-to-basics menu that includes a plethora of poultry: grilled chicken sandwiches, fried chicken, chicken and waffles, breakfast sandwiches, and even a Nutella waffle.
Much of SunDay Chicken’s wares can be cooked through a commercial kitchen at Morven Park, where Nils Schnibbe runs the Morven Park Café during equestrian and sporting events. Yes, yet another venture.
The Schnibbes acknowledge that even those closest to them question how they can handle so many projects at once. It’s simple, Nils Schnibbe said.
“It’s get up early, go to bed late, and have a team of great people with us. There’s no chance we could do it all by ourselves.”
And the Schnibbes don’t plan to slow down anytime soon, even with a new set of little feet joining the pack early next year. They are eying the opening of a beer garden and restaurant in Round Hill in the spring.