It appears the artists and galleries of Sperryville’s Rappahannock Central will again have the added draw of an in-house restaurant during the coming fall tourist season.
Thornton River Group’s Ken Thompson, whose family operates Thornton River Grille, Rudy’s Pizza and the Sperryville Corner Store, said this week TRG had signed an agreement with Rappahannock Central owners Lucille and Jerome Niessen to lease the former packing shed’s restaurant, Cafe Indigo, through the end of the year, starting Sept. 1.
The restaurant will be run by Terri Lehman, who joined the Thompsons’ operation after closing her own popular Ben Venue restaurant and store two years ago. She said Tuesday that she’ll be joined at the cafe by John Pearson – who operated the Flint Hill Public House for more than a dozen years before it closed in 2007.
Thompson, who said the Cafe Indigo operation will work closely with chef Tom Nash and the Thornton River Grille crew, cast the agreement as a sensible, temporary solution that enables Cafe Indigo to be open through the busiest tourist season. The Niessens closed Cafe Indigo last December and began a search for a new tenant to operate the newly renovated, full-service restaurant, which has been shuttered ever since. The gourmet food/gift store space adjacent to the restaurant has also been closed since May.
Both the Middle Street Gallery next door and the River District Arts artists cooperative adjacent to the restaurant have struggled this summer to lure traffic down River Lane from U.S. 211 – traffic that wasn’t already confused or kept away, that is, by the closed-for-renovations U.S. 522 bridge in the heart of the village (which is scheduled to reopen by Aug. 27).
“I cannot say how happy we are,” said glass artist Patti Brennan, a member of the Middle Street cooperative. She also had studio space at RDA – until moving it recently to Coterie over at the Sperryville Schoolhouse complex. “To have a successful local business, with their knowledge and good reputation, that is going to join forces with us – we’re absolutely ecstatic,” she added. “Let’s just get this boat going.”
Thompson said the Niessens are still looking for a long-term, permanent tenant to run the cafe, and have been “very cautious whom they would be leasing it to,” Thompson said. But “they have full confidence in the Thornton River Grille Group.”
“I’m very much looking forward to this opportunity,” Lehman said. “The Indigo space is wonderful, and I have always loved the tie-in with the artists.”
“I think it helps Jerome out, it helps the artists out,” said Andy Thompson, “and it gives us a chance to do something a little different. During this time of the year, when it’s so busy, there really is more than than enough business to go around for just one operation in Sperryville. I think we’re looking at it as a chance to see how we want to grow.”
The restaurant will be open for breakfast and lunch on Saturdays and brunch on Sundays, according to Lehman, who’s been working for the Corner Store and Thornton River Catering since her own restaurant and gourmet-food shop, ECow, closed in 2010 after an eight-year run in Ben Venue.
Lehman said that later in September – at least sometime after the Sept. 8 Taste of Rappahannock, the big Headwaters Foundation fundraising dinner that traditionally doubles Lehman’s workload every fall – she might stay open for dinner, and perhaps live music, on Saturdays.
For now, the plan is to open at 8 for breakfast Saturdays – “a light-fare, snacky-breakfast-coffee thing,” as Lehman described it, noting that it would complement rather than compete with Thornton River Grille’s full-breakfast menu. Lunch would be served from 11 to 4. On Sundays, there’ll be a brunch menu from 10 to 4, she said.