Sometimes when a new owner takes over an existing restaurant, it’s kind of an ordeal—you know, out with the old, in with the new. But sometimes these things are a lot quieter and below the radar, even when a longtime local favorite is involved.
Blue Light Grill, the Downtown Mall staple that’s been serving up seafood and cocktails for 14 years, has been owned by real estate mogul Coran Capshaw’s Red Light Management since it opened. But this month, the company will hand its flagship restaurant over to Restoration in Crozet co-owners Rich Ridge and Kelley Tripp, and Kevin Badke and Ryan Rooney, the co-owners of Trinity Irish Pub and Coupe’s. According to Rooney, the turn-key sale will be final Friday, April 10, and there won’t be any immediate overhauls.
Even for experienced restaurateurs, the process of coming into a long-beloved establishment on the Downtown Mall is different than starting from scratch.
“I think it is a bit humbling to be the outsider at your own restaurant and that everyone there knows more about the place than you do,” Rooney said via e-mail. “For the first few days you are just trying to figure out how to turn on the lights, but we will get it all down and are really looking forward to working with the current staff.”
Rooney said the restaurant will “continue to be Blue Light with some minor changes.” Red Light included architectural plans, and he said they plan to proceed with major renovations and a new food concept this winter.
The menu currently features seafood classics like mussels and frites, clam chowder and crab legs, plus an extensive cocktail and wine list. General manager Stacy Libitz said she expects the restaurant to remain true to its roots, while at the same time keeping up with the times and ever-changing Charlottesville food scene.
“The dynamic of the mall has changed a lot over the years,” she said. “I think it’s just stepped up its game in terms of culinary focus and goals, and obviously being innovative and new when it comes to menu and menu design is really important.”
It’s been an eventful year already for Blue Light, with new general manager Libitz and a new kitchen staff having come on board since last summer, but everyone involved says despite the upcoming changes, it will remain Blue Light.
“People come to Blue Light to see familiar faces, and luckily we’re going to retain that,” said Libitz. “It almost kind of feels like it’s the Cheers of downtown.”
Spring is here, and the events are starting to sprout up for food and wine lovers. All of you still reading who are not food and/or wine lovers, you’re in the wrong section.
April 11 will mark the coup de grapes for the Taste of Monticello Wine Trail Festival, a swirl and sip event at the nTelos Wireless Pavilion. Twenty-five local wineries are expected to be on hand to oil up the oenophiles, and live entertainment is scheduled to break out. For the fancy pants, a VIP ticket will harvest catered food and a handful of exclusive wines the rest of the festival goers will envy. Wine industry types and serious aficionados might want to attend the Monticello Cup Awards, intended to honor the region’s best wines, at The Jefferson Theater on April 9. April 10 will feature a variety of wine-related activities by day and a series of winemaker dinners by night. Let the classy bender begin.
Local Italian standby tavola will hold its own rockstar winemaker dinner until April 12, when the genuine article Piero Mastroberardino will be in the casa to guide diners through a six-course meal paired with wines from his family’s vineyard holdings in and around Irpinia, one of Italy’s great vino centers. Chefs Michael Keaveny, Aris Cuadra and Caleb Warr will provide the vittles, and while few details are available just yet, they’re promising two seafood courses, rabbit, duck, beef and dessert. Aye caramba—whoops wrong language. Tickets are $125 per person; dinner is at 5:30pm.
Just in case you aren’t confused enough by the two Restaurant Week events hosted by this esteemed publication, from April 13 to 19 the Tom Tom Founders Festival and Whole Foods Market will put on a third series of prix fixe menus at set prices in the second annual Farm to Table Restaurant Week. The concept is to highlight the local dairies, orchards, farms, breweries, vineyards, craft food artisans and eateries that have driven the recent spate of good press C’ville has gotten for its food scene. So far 11 restaurants, such as Brookville, C&O, Ivy Inn and Mas Tapas, have stepped up to do their part.