It’s been used to manufacture furniture, educate children, sell groceries, illegally sell alcohol, create woodwork and host bluegrass concerts. Now, Round Hill’s Old Furniture Factory is preparing to become the town’s only true take-out dinner option.
On Aug. 7, Joan Wolford, the owner of the Savoir Fare catering company, plans to close on the purchase of the 4,400-square-foot Furniture Factory building along West Loudoun Street to run C’est Bon by Savoir Fare—a dinners-to-go operation she previously ran out of a food truck. Wolford started that operation in 2012 by bringing the truck with her to weddings to sell late-night snacks like barbecue brisket sliders and petite chicken and waffles. More recently, she’s been operating it out of the parking lot at her building across the street from the Furniture Factory from January to mid-March.
Once the Furniture Factory sale goes through, Wolford will begin converting the front section of the building, a space she’s dubbed “The Square,” into a lobby-like area where residents can stop in to pick up their favorite Savoir Fare catered-foods, which will still be prepared in Wolford’s 2,500-square-foot kitchen across the street. Those include a local apple and bleu salad with Wolford’s famous balsamic vinaigrette, smoked beef brisket au jus and Savoir Fare’s signature fried chicken.
Wolford is hoping to open up shop by the end of the year but realizes opening might be closer to the first few weeks in January. “That’s pretty set in my mind,” she said.
Wolford said her idea to open the dinners-to-go storefront arose years before Wally Johnson put the building up for sale in 2017. She said that originally, she tried to convince Johnson to install a kitchen in the building, since he owns the Round Hill Design Studio—a high-end kitchen sales and installation company established in 1988. “He didn’t take that bait,” Wolford said.
She also looked at purchasing another property in town to open C’est Bon, but backed out of that deal upon realizing it would have cost her too much to add in the required parking.
Once Johnson put the property on the market, Wolford said her desire to purchase it grew and she realized that she wouldn’t be happy if someone else bought it and opened a restaurant there before she could.
Johnson said he felt that Wolford would be the “perfect purchaser” even before he listed it for sale. Throughout the past two years, he’s received a handful of offers that were lower than expected.
Savoir Fare has been in operation in the town since 1999. In 2009, Wolford even opened a full-service restaurant in her building, which sits at the corner of West Loudoun and Main Streets. She closed that in 2013 once her catering business grew so much that a single kitchen for it and the restaurant wasn’t sufficient.
Wolford now caters 135 weddings and 75 other jobs annually and is at capacity with her existing equipment, kitchen space and staffing.
While Savoir Fare has been a staple in Round Hill for years, the Furniture Factory has been a landmark in the town for much longer. The Howell Brothers Furniture Emporium built the factory in the mid-1880s and operated there for the next decade. For a year in 1911, the building served as the location of the Old Round Hill School when the schoolhouse on Church Street burned down. It was later used as a grocery store, a tin shop and, during Prohibition in the 1920s, as a speakeasy.
In 1985, Johnson and his business partner purchased the property to operate American Woodcrafters, which they ran until 1998. In 2001, Johnson’s daughter Hope Hanes, an elementary school art teacher, helped to launch the Round Hill Arts Center, which moved to Hill High Orchards in 2009. It was then that Johnson moved his Round Hill Design Studio into the building.
Since 2004, the Furniture Factory has also been home to the monthly Bluegrass Jam—a Friday night jam session in which musicians bring their instruments and strike up with others. Johnson said those jam sessions have, at their peak, brought in up to 250 people and generated $2,200 in one night, which has benefited Genesis International, a nonprofit that supports pre-school education and health programs for orphans and vulnerable children in Africa.
Johnson said the jams have welcomed the likes of Ben Eldridge, The Seldom Scene’s former banjo player; Dick Smith, a former banjo player with The Country Gentlemen; and Tara Linhardt, a mandolin player with Bluegrass Collusion.
After visiting the jam session for a first time in several years June 28 and meeting musicians and organizers, Wolford said she’s motivated to continue hosting the events—a resolve Johnson said the bluegrass jammers would find to be “music to their ears.”
“These people were tugging at our heart strings,” Wolford said about her time at the jam last month. “We’re willing to entertain this just with a few minor tweaks.”
Aside from preparing for closing on the property, Wolford said she’s also prepping to paint the interior, is looking at possibly paving the parking lot and is generally getting Savoir Fare ready for a C’est Bon move across the street.
She feels she has another decade of “really good energy” before beginning to think about retirement.
“I think this is a really good investment and a fun project for me for the next 10 years,” she said. “This I know I can do.”
As for Johnson and his kitchen design company, he said he would work a bit out of his home, but mostly retire come August. “It’s been a good run,” he said.