Arcade-restaurant combo Firefly opens, Local Food Hub turns 5, and more local restaurant news

It’s game on at Firefly, the new restaurant and arcade at the corner of Market Street and Meade Avenue. Photo: Michael Johnson. It’s game on at Firefly, the new restaurant and arcade at the corner of Market Street and Meade Avenue. Photo: Michael Johnson.

Woolen Mills barcade Firefly makes its debut

It’s been a long three months for Mark Weber and Ben Quade, the masterminds behind Charlottesville’s newest dinner-and-drinks spot. Weber bought the two-story Woolly Mammoth space at the corner of Market Street and Meade Avenue in July of this year, shortly after he began intensive chemotherapy for a stage three malignant tumor. Despite the fact that he had no prior food industry experience, he envisioned Firefly, a restaurant-bar-arcade combo, with old school video games, TVs, booze and locally-sourced food.

With the help of long-time local restaurant and bar manager Quade, Weber’s girlfriend Melissa Meece, and new-to-town chef Peter Robertson, Weber welcomed a full house of friends, family and restaurant industry folks at last week’s soft openings, and Firefly officially opened for business on Saturday, November 22.

“The soft openings have gone really well,” Quade said. “Everyone seemed to really enjoy the food, and we’re really excited about the space.”

Since taking on the project this summer, Weber and Quade have gutted the place, installed a new wooden bar, lined the walls with locally made tables and chairs and invested in two pinball machines, two pool tables and old favorite arcade games like Ms. Pac-Man. Quade said they’re hoping to add more games to the collection, but the space may not be conducive to things like skee-ball or air hockey.

“We did break out the ping pong table the other night, which I could see being a late-night thing once dinner service is over,” Quade said.

There’s no cocktail menu for the time being, but the bar is stocked with local brews, a small selection of liquors and sugarcane sodas. Keep an eye out for happy hour specials Tuesday-Saturday. At last week’s soft openings, guests got to try small-plate portions of some of the menu staples created by Robertson, a graduate of the Culinary Institute of America and former owner of a small prix fixe restaurant in New York. Trays of miniature burgers, fries with sage and other herbs, creamy mac and cheese with bacon and braised local pork over grits floated around, and the full menu will also feature appetizers, salads and desserts. No brunch menu yet, but stay tuned.

For now Firefly’s hours are Tuesday-Thursday 4-11pm, Friday and Saturday 4pm-midnight, and Sunday 1-6pm.

Celebrating local

Charlottesville’s Local Food Hub, a nonprofit that looks to make food from local farms more accessible, announced the winners of its Community Food Awards during a fifth birthday celebration on November 20. This year marked the return of the Hub’s $1,500 cash prize for Innovation in Agriculture, provided by Bundoran Farm by Natural Retreats. Yoders’ Farm (Campbell County) took home the cash and esteem for using repurposed equipment to heat sterilize its hydroponic tomato growing medium.

Charlottesville-based award winners included UVA’s Observatory Hill Dining Hall (Bill Shields, production manager), The PB&J Fund and the Emergency Food Bank. Other award winners were Dickie Brothers Orchard (Partner Fruit Producer), Walnut Winds Farm (Partner Vegetable Producer), Wenger Grape Farms (Pioneer in the Field), Hartland Natural Farm (Rookie of the Year), Whole Foods Market Fairlakes (Retail Leader) and D.C.-based Glen’s Garden Market (Small Business, Big Impact).

“The Community Food Awards is a special opportunity to highlight farmers, businesses and institutions for their commitment to making access to local food the norm, not the exception, for all segments of the community,” Local Food Hub Executive Director Kristen Suokko said. “We are honored to be celebrating our fifth year among…those who have provided crucial support to Local Food Hub’s efforts to provide access to healthy, farm sourced food for everyone.”

Working on wine

Want to know if winery owner and consultant Michael Shaps has true vino cred? You’ll likely have to start by tracking him down in France. When he’s not working on his recently expanded local libation operation, Michael Shaps Wineworks (née Virginia Wineworks), Shaps is boots-on-the-ground at his Burgundian winery, Maison Michael Shaps, in Meursault.

Shaps announced last month he had bought out his former Virginia Wineworks partner, Philip Stafford, renamed the operation and spent $1 million to increase production by 50 percent and add a tasting room. Shaps said construction plans are also underway for a new 10,000-square-foot warehouse facility.

“We are going forward on a different scale,” Shaps said. To help finance the growth, majority stakeholder Shaps has brought in three additional partners. “It’s going into a new phase, and it includes a lot of growth and diversity and other potential investments down the road,” he said.

So what happened to the Shaps/Stafford partnership, which made Virginia Wineworks the first and largest contract winemaker in Virginia? Both Stafford and Shaps say they had conflicting visions for the business. Shaps said Stafford offered to sell him his 50 percent stake in the business when it became clear they wanted to go in different directions.

“It was time to make an exit,” said Stafford in an e-mail.

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