The Flat’s new owners promise same tasty food
What happens when one of the smallest restaurants in Charlottesville puts a small sign in its small window saying it’s closed for renovation? We hear that behind the tiny façade of The Flat on Water Street, big things are happening.
Former owner Lauren McRaven, who was inspired by street food in Scotland to launch the popular crepe shop, has found a calling in another country. After going on multiple missions to Haiti over the past few years, she decided to sell her C’ville restaurant and move to the island nation semi-permanently.
Enter new owners Brian Gaffney and Bennett Toms. Gaffney brings with him the restaurant experience, including a stint working with McRaven at The Flat about eight years ago. Toms has the business smarts. The two have been looking to open a grub joint together for some time, and the availability of the off-the-mall hole-in-the-wall was an opportunity they couldn’t pass up.
“I recently decided I wanted to be my own boss,” Toms says. “Brian brought this plan to me, and it sounded perfect.”
Gaffney and Toms are currently finishing a minor remodel on the small crepe counter, repainting the interior and exterior and “sprucing things up a bit.” They plan to keep the menu and vibe the same for the most part when they open on July 10 and continue working with McRaven’s local suppliers. But they do have a few ideas to maximize the tiny space and “keep the product cold and fresh.”
Gaffney says his last job in the local food biz, at smoked meat standout Ace Biscuit & Barbecue, was an inspiration for opening his own small casual restaurant. The guys at Ace “are fantastic and helped us out a lot to open this place,” he says. Gaffney and Toms hope to have a soft opening for friends and family a few days before their July 10 grand unveiling.
McRaven will have been in Haiti running a guest house for about five months by then, but she’s maintained at least one link to C’ville. She purchased a food trailer to take The Flat mobile last year and plans to keep it so she’ll “have something to come back to.”
“Brian and Bennett are great guys, and I’m excited to see what they do with [The Flat],” she says.
Donut Connection franchisees have had an odd relationship with Charlottesville. The Long Street location, which is still open for business but not listed on the Donut Connection website, bizarrely started advertising burritos on its façade about two years ago. Thank God that’s over.
The latest franchisee, Anish Adatia, opened up shop next to World of Beer in The Flats @ West Village in late June, and if his busy schedule is any indication, he’s off to a fast start. Adatia has on three occasions said he was too preoccupied to speak with C-VILLE about his confections.
According to corporate spokesperson James Morton, The Donut Connection Co-op Corp. is a retailer-owned cooperative. Some of the nearly 100 Donut Connections in the country are apparently derivative of the defunct Mister Donut chain. “We have the best of both worlds as a retailer-owned cooperative,” says Donut Connection board member Jim Edwards of Washington, Pennsylvania, who operates four of the joints.
That notion will certainly be put to the test in Charlottesville, where the Connection will have to do battle with old standby Spudnuts, up-and-comer Duck Donuts, mobile fried dough slinger Carpe Donut and good ’ol Dunkin’.
You may have noticed a familiar face at 110 Second St. NW, the little takeout window across from Fellini’s. Greenie’s owner Kathy Zentgraf, whose vegetarian and vegan menu has been a staple at the City Market since 2010, has teamed up with Vu Noodles owner Julie Vu Whitaker and set up shop in the little spot off the Downtown Mall.
It was a serendipitous meeting when Zentgraf and Whitaker’s paths crossed at the vegetarian festival last year: Both were creating health-conscious vegetarian dishes and both were searching for a commercial kitchen. They started discussing their separate businesses, the Second Street space became available and it all just sort of fell into place, they said.
“It was very organic how it all happened,” Whitaker says, adding that she’d had her eye on this location ever since starting her wholesale noodle bowl business.
Zentgraf and Whitaker opened the Greenie’s and Vu Noodles combo window just in time for Tom Tom in the spring. For now the hours they’ve settled on are Monday-Friday lunch, and Wednesday and Friday dinner. The menu is simple, featuring two of Whitaker’s noodle bowls (one with fish sauce, so not entirely vegetarian) and spring rolls, and Zentgraf’s collard wrap and jackfruit vegan BBQ. Whitaker will dust the noodle bowls with as much Vietnamese spice as you can handle, and the vegan BBQ is shockingly similar to the real thing—and just as sloppy, especially with slaw thrown into the mix.
“I wanted to make something healthy, that wasn’t going to hurt anybody,” says Zentgraf, a born-again vegetarian whose original plan in 2010 was to market her homemade Italian sausages.
Keep an eye on the Greenie’s’ Facebook page for menu and hours updates.