Saddle up

Saddle up

They don’t mean no harm, really. Cornett Hospitality, LLC just wants to feed you a good steak at an affordable price. That’s what the company’s been doing at its two successful Topeka’s Steakhouse restaurants in Richmond and what it attempted to do at Topeka’s locations in Hampton and Chesapeake, Virginia, both of which, unfortunately, have closed. Now the hospitality company is bringing a Topeka’s to Pantops Mountain across from the Hilton Garden Inn hotel. Restaurantarama had an opportunity to tour the freestanding space-in-progress with General Manager Matthew S. Kossin and was impressed with how polished and professional the whole operation will be. USDA Choice or higher grade meats, aged and freshly cut on site; a take-out area and full butcher shop conveniently located on the side; private rooms for power lunches; massive projection TVs for showing old Westerns or the big game; ice towers and tabletop beer taps; lots of quirky train-lore accoutrements, including a small mechanized choo-choo that travels around the restaurant—this place has the signature of a food and beverage behemoth that’s been making money on the kitschy dining scene for a long time.

The steaks are high: General Manager Matthew S. Kossin says he wants Topeka’s Steakhouse to be voted Best New Restaurant in the 2009 Best Of C-VILLE issue.

But we know and they know what you’re thinking, Charlottesville: “Ugh—not another chain restaurant. We’re so over that. We’d rather get our grub from someone ‘local,’ someone who, you know, may go out of business next week or have a run-in with the health department, but, hey, at least it’s local.”  Well, these Topeka guys want to point out that they are kind of local. Kossin, who’s been with the Cornett group for almost 10 years, says that he and his employers “are good ol’ boys, just like everyone else.” Moreover, he says, “Phil is from your own backyard.” By Phil, he means, J. Philip Cornett, CEO of Cornett Hospitality and a native of Culpeper.
O.K., the company did make its fortune owning Kentucky Fried Chicken franchises as far back as 1967, but they sold all of those back to the KFC mother ship in 1992. Oh, and yes, in addition to launching the first Topeka’s in 1994, Cornett also owns about 12 Hooters—a franchise you either love or hate depending on your tits-touting tolerance—as well as several Max & Erma’s in the mid-Atlantic region. But Topeka’s is a different bird, so to speak. Its slogan is “Mean Steaks, Nice People,” and Kossin tells us the restaurant is particularly committed to making nice-nice with the local community of food and beverage purveyors. He names Carter Mountain Orchard, Starr Hill Brewery and Barboursville and Horton Vineyards among the local suppliers he plans to utilize at the Charlottesville location.

And Topeka’s definitely wants to make nice-nice with all of you, potential future customers. “We want to be voted Best New Restaurant in your reader’s poll next year,” Kossin tells us. Kossin also suggests that we add a category for Best Steak in our Best Of C-VILLE issue next year, because he wants Topeka’s to win that too.  As for Topeka’s competitors in that would-be category (e.g., Aberdeen Barn, Downtown Grille, Hamiltons’, The Upstairs), Kossin is gracious, but blunt: “They’re nice, but they’re expensive. At Topeka’s, you can get a 14oz filet with side and salad for $29.99.”

Look for Topeka’s to open in all its affordable glory in late September.   

Quick bites

Some bits of news from the end of summer shake-out: BreadWorks bakery and deli now has a second location at UVA Hospital’s Northridge medical office building on Ivy Road. Stop in for some freshly baked pastries while you wait for your appointment at the Lipid Disorders Clinic. On the closings front, both the Italian restaurant Mamma Mia on Grady Avenue and the Japanese restaurant Daihaichi in the Albemarle Square Shopping Center have shut their doors. The former already has been replaced by a new Mexican and Salvadorian place called El Dorado. As for new menu items, Guadalajara Mexican Restaurant is now serving breakfast at its Market Street location.

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