In May of this year, Mark Weber was diagnosed with cancer, and the prognosis was not good. Two and a half months and several rounds of chemotherapy later, he’s doing so well that he’s gearing up to open a new restaurant.
In the middle of an intensive treatment regimen for a stage three malignant tumor, Weber came across the listing for Woolly Mammoth, the two-story restaurant and bar at the corner of Market Street and Meade Avenue that became known for its eclectic interior, hipster events, and public scrutiny. Former owner Matteus Frankovich originally opened the restaurant in 2012 as the Black Market Moto Saloon, and after a lengthy battle with Woollen Mills residents and the city over amplified music and zoning laws, changed the name to Woolly Mammoth. He quietly put the space on the market in February, and handed the keys over to Weber last month.
“This is the place I’ve always dreamed of,” Weber said as he gazed around the cluttered space from a leather couch. “I realized that my clock may be running out, and I bought this place so I can have the experience, and share it with other people.”
Weber’s vision for the restaurant and bar, which he plans to rename Firefly, may not be a new one, but it’ll be new to Charlottesville. Channeling his inner teenage boy and appealing to the population of gamers in town, he’s filling the space with foosball, pinball, pool, giant TVs, and as many old-school arcade and video games as he can get his hands on. Like the national chain Dave and Buster’s, he said, but “not in a cheesy way.”
As if the games aren’t enough, Weber has already booked the Charles Owens Trio to perform on Mondays, and he said events like Big Blue Door’s storytelling jams and the Piedmont Council for the Arts’ monthly Art Drinks are on his radar.
“I want to do a little bit of everything,” Weber said. “It’s going to benefit other people, and it’ll be like I get to be the host of a party every night.”
The food and drink concept isn’t nailed down yet, but with two years of organic farming under his belt and a newfound appreciation for nutrition and his own health, Weber said he’s excited to bring games, craft beer, and healthy, local ingredients under one roof.
“I have to feel good about what I’m putting into other people’s bodies and doing for their health,” Weber said. “It’ll be a place that’s casual and fun, but you can still get an awesome plate of nachos with local ingredients.”
This isn’t Weber’s first foray into the business world. He worked alongside his long-time girlfriend Melissa Meece to launch ReThreads, the men and women’s consignment shop on Allied Street, and shortly thereafter opened Etcetera, a similar shop across town that has since closed. His restaurant knowledge is limited to what he learned as a teenaged server—”I know how to work a tap, and that’s about it,” he said—but that’s where outside help comes in. Weber has recruited former Whiskey Jar bar manager Ben Quade, who’s been in the food industry for six years, to fine-tune his vision and get the restaurant-bar-arcade off the ground. Quade comes from a long line of food biz folks, and since first tying on a server’s apron at age 20, he’s also held managerial positions at C&O, Bel Rio, and Revolutionary Soup.
Weber’s finishing up his chemotherapy, and even with a potential surgery on the horizon, he’s chomping at the bit to get Firefly up and running by October.
“It’s such a cliché, but the cancer really has been a blessing,” Weber said. “It made me realize that I’d been limiting myself, and I need to do this.”
Meanwhile, diagonally across the street, the space that used to be the Lunchbox is also under (somewhat) new ownership. Original owner Dan Heilberg joined forces with chef Casey Donnelly and grillsman Tyler Zimmerman—all of whom went to Murray High School—to rebrand the space as The Boneyard, which opened in January of this year. Bureaucratic delays kept them from getting an ABC license until recently, Heilberg said, but now the fully-stocked bar is up and running.
“The Lunchbox did well for us, but we wanted to class the place up,” Heilberg said. “I really want people to feel comfortable here, like they’re at home.”
The Boneyard’s menu features made-from-scratch southern-inspired sandwiches, like classic barbecue and Donnelly’s favorite, the pork with pear chutney.
Not unlike its restaurant neighbor, The Boneyard is host to live music shows a couple nights a week. But after watching the battle between Matteus Frankovich and the city over amplified music in the neighborhood, Heilberg said he wanted to keep his head down, and limits the venue’s performances to acoustic solo and duo acts.
“Like they say, you can’t fight city hall,” he said with a shrug.
The Boneyard is open daily, and recently partnered with the online delivery service OrderUp. And keep an eye on the restaurant’s Facebook page—Heilberg and Donnelly said a Sunday brunch menu is just around the corner.