For more than 20 years, a gutted structure at the intersection of U.S. 250 and 240 near Crozet has stood in mute testimony to the collision of county regulations and an entrepreneurial dream.
That era ended June 7, when the remaining shell came down. Current owner Bill McKechnie estimates all traces will be removed by the time this story appears in print. “It doesn’t seem real, but it is,” says McKechnie, whose Mechum’s Trestle LLC has owned the property since July 2004.
The county approved plans April 12 for a one-story, 100-seat restaurant in the footprint of what was once the Oasis around 1960, then Pop and Ethel’s, Gallery, followed by Galerie, where Bizou and Bang owners Vincent Derquenne and Tim Burgess met in the 1980s, and Ridge restaurants. If not for that grandfathering, the site would be unbuildable under current regs.
The Caribbean-themed restaurant Richard Cooper wanted to call Café No Problem quickly became known as Café Big Problem when Albemarle issued a stop work order in 1995 after he ripped out the walls. By the time Cooper secured county approvals three years later, he was out of funds.
“It has been a long process,” says McKechnie. “It’s a difficult piece of property.” Besides sitting on entrance corridors for Albemarle and Crozet, the 1.4-acre site on the corner of Three Notch’d and Browns Gap roads has Lickinghole Creek in its backyard. Mechums River and a Buckingham Branch railroad line are across the streets.
McKechnie describes the new restaurant, which he will build and lease, as like a 1920s roadhouse. “It’s not embellished,” he says. “It’s meant to highlight the area, not draw attention to itself.”
McKechnie, a co-owner of the local Five Guys Burgers and Fries, says he does not foresee a franchise in the spot on the edge of Crozet’s growth area. “We’d like it to be a community-oriented spot and we’d like it to incorporate a family theme,” he says.
And after nearly a dozen years owning the property, says McKechnie, “We’re not going to waste any time.” He’d like to see construction begin by the end of the year with a grand opening by next spring.
Cooper saw the demolished shell and describes his reaction succinctly: “Bittersweet.”
“We’re just happy” to see it move forward, says McKechnie, who has another aspiration for the site that over the decades has housed vehicles for sale and that some have treated as a public dump. And certain weeklies (ahem) have included the property on lists of area eyesores or busted stuff. Says McKechnie, “We’d love to see it come off that list.”