Sperryville column for Nov. 3

Batchelor (and Baker), looking after the store

Craig Batchelor wasn’t looking for a new venture. He and his beautiful wife Caitlin were living in Harrisonburg and spending most weekends in Rappahannock. Successful estate attorney Craig and Caitlin spent most of their free time with Craig’s brother, Clay, who lives on Poortown Road, and they’d visit the family farm in Huntly — and a small vineyard they own in Linden.

Sperryville Corner Store/Thornton River Grille owner Craig Batchelor gets some customer-greeting assistance from the ever-smiling Baker.
Sperryville Corner Store/Thornton River Grille owner Craig Batchelor gets some customer-greeting assistance from the ever-smiling Baker. By Chris Green

Sperryville had became a favorite haunt for the couple; especially Friday night pizza extravaganzas at Rudy’s, which (as the sign says) has the best pizza in Sperryville. (It is, of course, the only pizza place in Sperryville.) Caitlin and Craig held their rehearsal dinner at the Thornton River Grille; their friendship with the Thompson family runs deep, and when the Thornton River Grille/Corner Store complex went up for sale, Clay immediately called to tell his brother, and the rest is hamlet history.

“I felt a need to help preserve and honor the historical significance of Sperryville Corner Store,” Craig says. “It’s a historical anchor in our community built in the late 1800s, complete with handwritten leather-bound ledgers, rich with the notations of sales of chickens and feed and all manner of village and farm wares. We also wanted to make sure the Grille continued to play a positive and leading role in so many people’s experience of Rappahannock County.”

Craig says he welcomes gradual changes — and any and all ideas and suggestions offered by patrons and employees alike (all of whom he’s retained). Terri Lehman, known far and wide for her culinary skills, is one of those who often introduces new delectables to the shelves.

Craig is an intense man with a quick and genuine smile, a good listener who is clearly focused on the success of the enterprise. I found him one bright sunny Friday morning, sitting quietly in the restaurant with former owner Ken Thompson, both of them sitting side by side, hunched over a table filled with paperwork, poring over numbers and operational information.

Craig speaks of his great respect for Ken and how much he appreciates his predecessor’s wisdom and guidance. Craig is not a seasoned restaurateur, but worked his way through college and law school via service industry jobs. He says much of the business of restaurants and general stores is about numbers, something his law practice specialty makes him comfortable with.

More important, he says, running a business like his is about relationships — with staff, with the community at large. He still has his practice and welcomes new clients but the restaurant and general store are his overwhelming and time-consuming passion. He’s there most every day.

Often by his side is one of the Sperryville Corner Store’s biggest assets: Baker. Baker is the epitome of a great English Labrador, obvious by his sheer size, the width and breadth of his beautifully shaped head and muscular body, his heart the size of Texas. He is beloved by anyone coming within his sphere and is the Sperryville store’s mascot and ambassador.

Trained much like the Little Washington town kitty that visits Tula’s (who knows better than to enter any food contact areas and greets patrons with loud purrs and furry ankle massages), so too Baker is trained to refrain from any food contact areas and greets customers, all 100-plus pounds of him, with a lopsided grin, thumping tail and delightful canine exuberance. Employees as well as patrons adore him. He sleeps quietly too, under a shelf by the register, and is known to receive tiny visitors, like the little girl who recently, to the delight of all present, crawled under the counter to lay her blonde locks upon his quietly slumbering belly.

If you have comments or suggestions for Craig, you can reach him at the store or at craig@thorntonrivergrille.com. Good luck to you, Craig; your success is already so very apparent.

Best wishes to another great baker

On a more somber note, changes of a different sort are about to take place at Triple Oak Bakery on U.S. 211 west of the village. Proprietor and gluten-free guru Brooke Parkhurst recently communicated the following news on social media:

Well, life is change, and change is good and change is happening here at Triple Oak Bakery! First, let me assure you that we are staying in business! However, due to some increasingly difficult back and leg problems, I’m going to close the walk-in portion of the business. While it’s one of my favorite things, getting to see old and new friends enjoying our food, these health problems are forcing a change, and that’s okay. Triple Oak will continue to offer mail order and special order services, but hours will be by appointment only, and I hope to return to cooking classes and FINALLY write that darn cookbook!

Pleasure rides judged excellent

A scene from Sunday's Crystal Crown Series Judged Pleasure Ride at the McNears' Greenwood Farm.
A scene from Sunday’s Crystal Crown Series Judged Pleasure Ride at the McNears’ Greenwood Farm. Courtesy photo

Much like annual hunter pace events, the Crystal Crown Series found its way, for the last of the season series, under bright sunny skies Sunday at the McNears’ Greenwood farm in Gid Brown Hollow. Equine competitions have been held for many years here in Rappahannock, a county steeped in equestrian tradition.

The course at Greenwood was spectacular, lush and green with signature views, grass billowing in the soft wind, giving entrants and observers alike a reason to smile. The Crystal Crown Series Judged Pleasure Rides (JPRs), according to the series rules, “are not about speed, but instead, showcase the partnership between horse and rider. Individual riders or groups can ride together over the course which covers 6-10 miles, depending on the venue, and consists of a minimum of 10 natural or manmade obstacles at intervals along the trail. Judges at each obstacle score the horse and rider on their ability to negotiate the obstacle safely, trail manners, general horsemanship and the ability to complete the obstacle within the prescribed time (normally 60 seconds). . . . Unlike other events, points are awarded solely on the merit of the partnership between horse and rider. Clothing, tack, pedigree, etc. are not considered by our judges and volunteers.”

Further, according to the crystalcrownseries.com website, “while the series is competitive by nature, our emphasis is on building relationships with our horses and other riders within the JPR community. We want our riders to walk away with a huge smile saying, ‘Wow, I didn’t know my horse could do that!’ Ribbon or not, fun is our definition of a successful event.”

Regardless of which equine discipline is celebrated, the skill of the winners and all the entrants should be applauded. The Crystal Crown Series showcases our gifted riders astride their magical mounts and I congratulate you for your hard work, your passion for the sport and your contribution to our beloved equestrian world.

Chris Green
About Chris Green 159 Articles
Chris Green (formerly Chris Doxzen) is an an executive recruiter by profession who enjoys exploring and writing about all things Rappahannock. Friends and neighbors with potential stories for her Sperryville column should email her at chrisdoxzen@gmail.com.