Restaurant Vets Build a Community Meeting Place Through the Wicket Door

Leesburg residents Mark and Kristi Hanlon are restaurant industry veterans who have spent three decades serving up meals at some of the area’s most popular eateries. Now, they are doing that their own way at their new Wicket Door Pub in Ashburn’s University Center neighborhood.

As the first tenants of the latest building in the neighborhood’s commercial center, the husband and wife team hope be more than a great place for comfort food and a breakfast destination. They want the pub to be a gathering point for the surrounding community that includes residents, business employees, students from the George Washington University campus across the street, and police officers at the law enforcement training academy nearby. After being open just a few weeks, they’re already seeing longtime neighbors connecting with each other for the first time around their tables.

“It’s really cool to see people discovering us and then discovering each other. It’s been fun,” Mark said.

The couple met in 2003 while working for theGreat American Restaurant Group.They moved on together to work at the Blue Ridge Grill in Leesburg and then in Brambleton. Over the years, they’ve each held every front-of-the-house and back-of-the-house job in the industry, except ownership—until now.

They made the jump last summer when construction started on the new office building and opened for business in December.

After decades in the industry, Mark and Kristi Hanlon are striking out on their own with their first restaurant, the Wicket Door Pub, in Ashburn.

Kristisaid they’ve worked hard over the years to help deliver other owners’ visions, but “now it is our dream.”

“We just want to be the comfortable place where people come and hang out—a neighborhood pub,” Mark said.

They know the hard work it takes to run a successful restaurant, but say the payoff is worth the effort.

“If you’re not afraid to work, it’s fun work,” Kristi said.

“There is no greater joy for us than to have this building full and to see everyone enjoying each other, enjoying our food, enjoying our setting—that carries you a long way,” Mark added. “We want people to be happy. It makes us happy. That drives us.”

When setting up their menu, the two talked about what they liked over the years and what they liked making at home.

“We like comfort food, but we like stepping it up a notch,” Mark said, noting they cure their pork belly and smoke their meats in house, and make their own sauces, pickles and dressings. “It’s a little extra work but we feel the results are well worth it.”

Of their menu favorites, Kristi goes with the Pork Spud, a sea salt-rubbed loaded baked potato stuffed with smoked pork, while Mark tends toward The Underhill steak sandwich, named for thearrogant club member who draws the ire of Chevy Chase’s character in the movie “Fletch.”

The restaurant’s name also is a result of their partnership. Mark knew he wanted to have a pub in the old English style of a community gathering place. Kristi came up with the wicket door—a small pedestrian door within a larger door or fence—to emphasize hospitality and providing access to everyone.

Mark and Kristi Hanlon stand in front of their custom made Wicket Door, on display in their Ashburn restaurant.

Yes, there is a wicket door as part of the décor—a large one designed by Kristi and constructed by Mark’s brother-in-law using materials supplied by Leesburg-based Local Wood.

Just weeks into their new venture’s operation, the couple is enthusiastic about getting to know their neighbors better and to live out their own dream.

“We’re just excited to have our own place. We’re excited to be business owners. We’ve lived in this county for a long time and we’ve served this county for a long time. It’s cool to be the ones who are guiding the ship and we’re looking forward to what this can bring,” Mark said.

The restaurant is located at44921 George Washington Boulevard in
Ashburn.Learn more at wicketdoorpub.com or call 703-687-3876.

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