Rae’s — a household word in Rappahannock County since the ‘70s, though the households kept changing over the years — will be closing at the end of the month. The Main Street Sperryville restaurant is the fifth Rappahannock County restaurant in 15 months to succumb to a slow economy.
Owner Rae Gaedke’s decision to close the shop by Jan. 31 came the same week that the owners of the Thornton River Grille and Sperryville Corner Store announced that former ECow restaurant/ gourmet grocery store owner Terri Lehman would be joining them to start up a catering business. The timing was no coincidence, Gaedke said.
“The competition around here has helped to do me in,” she said, referring to Stonewall Abbey, which opened two years ago a few doors down Main Street, and High on the Hog, which opened last fall directly across the street, in the space formerly occupied by Pellagatta’s, and finally Thornton River Grille’s decision to add catering, an important part of Gaedke’s business.
Other eateries that have closed in the county since late 2008 include the Flint Hill Public House, the Blue Rock Inn (which new owners plan to reopen next spring), ECow (closed just last month after eight years in Ben Venue) and Pellagatta’s. Also several neighborhood stores have closed or changed hands in the same period.
The Corner Store keeps expanding, on the other hand. Owner Andy Thompson, who also owns the adjacent Thornton River Grille and Rudy’s Pizza, added the pizzeria three years ago, a second-floor dining deck last summer, and has now taken on Lehman.
“We’ve been talking about getting into catering for the past two years at the Grill,” said chef and restaurant operator Tom Nash. “Catering is a logical extension of what we are trying to do at the Grille, and with Terri, we are excited about our prospects for successfully delivering great food and service to local events.”
Nash said the restaurant is building a catering kitchen adjacent to the new deck, which will also get a roof.
Thompson said: “Our three businesses . . . all benefit greatly by our ability to share employees, food inventories and management across three businesses, all located in one building. We will now be able to extend this benefit by adding a fourth business with catering.”
It was Lehman’s background in gourmet-grocery buying that led her to open ECow — a healthy-food grocery as much as a creative lunch spot — back in 2001, ahead of the curve. It was the curve catching up — as local, organic and generally pricier foods are now available everywhere, including the large grocery chains — that brought the demise of ECow.
The apparent domino effect of Lehman’s move to Sperryville led Gaedke to decide to close the restaurant Jan. 31. She says she will then visit her mother in Florida for a week – and then return in February to turn the restaurant into a temporary secondhand shop – to sell the contents of her house, which is now also for sale just up Woodward Road.
“It will be good thing to do with the space in February,” she said. “I’m such a pack rat, I have so many cool things, and I have to get rid of them.”
Gaedke, 57, opened her first health-food store in Washington in 1975 and moved on to a series of larger stores, then restaurants, including the probably best-known of them all, Mountainside Market on U.S. 211 further south in Sperryville. She opened Rae’s Deli in the old schoolhouse complex at U.S. 211 and 522 (now The Link), and worked for Sunnyside Farms for a while after David Cole’s shortlived organic empire took over the schoolhouse complex five years ago. The current Rae’s, in what used to be the Appetite Repair Shop, has been open for three years.
Gaedke says after everything’s sold, she will most likely move to Florida to “look after my mom. So she doesn’t have to go to a nursing home.
“Everything changes,” she said. “You just have to have faith.”