Old school Italian joint Vivace rolls into new ownership and more local restaurant news

Longtime employees Landon Saul (pictured) and Jeff Sobel are the new co-owners at Vivace, where they plan to celebrate the traditions that began 20 years ago. Photo: Rammelkamp Foto Longtime employees Landon Saul (pictured) and Jeff Sobel are the new co-owners at Vivace, where they plan to celebrate the traditions that began 20 years ago. Photo: Rammelkamp Foto

Vivace has been an Italian staple in C’ville for 20 years now. So when the couple that founded the place announced earlier this month they’d be retiring, you’d be forgiven for predicting the end of an era.

But Tom (“Zipper”) and Beth Lippman weren’t going out like that.

“They wanted to sell it to someone who they thought would benefit from it and keep their legacy going,” said new co-owner Jeff Sobel.

Just what makes Sobel so qualified to carry on the legacy? He’s been Vivace’s general manager for the last five years. Oh, and the other “co” in co-owner is chef Landon Saul, the guy who’s been manning the restaurant’s kitchen for the past 11 years since getting his start in the front of the Vivace house.

“It will be hopefully some familiar faces but with some new twists and maybe bigger smiles,” Sobel said. “We have a lot of repeat business, and we want to reach out and make some new friends and create more repeat business.”

Sobel recognizes keeping the best of the old while adding some new is a balance that can be hard to strike. Right now, he said the team’s focusing on finishing some projects that were started while the Lippmans were still around—tidying things up, fixing faulty windows, replacing stairs and getting the patio ready for al fresco season.

Sobel hinted at other changes that might be coming but offered no details. He said the biggest thing for him would be to push chef Saul to “turn loose his creative energy” going forward. Coming off a trip to Italy where he spent three weeks in a cooking school, Saul has been reenergized and is poised to break out, Sobel said.

“Sometimes he’ll ask me, ‘You want something to eat?’ And he will whip something up and it is delicious,” Sobel said. “We can’t put them all on the menu, but I would like to see…more variety in the specials.”

Oh, and regulars haven’t seen the last of the Lippmans. According to Sobel, while they’re retiring to Savannah, Georgia, “They’ll be around.”

“They put in 20 years here, and we would like to celebrate that,” he said.

Re-juice-enated

It’s been less than a year since a couple of Darden students debuted their Dominican-inspired Caribe Juice on the shelves of a few Charlottesville retailers, and already the expanding team is making changes to the product.

“After several months of obtaining feedback, we have a better understanding of our consumers,” said Marketing Director Meg Forch. “The flavors are the same, but it’s just a better product, kind of a revamped juice and overall brand itself.”

The juices themselves still come in four varieties—guava, passion fruit, starfruit and acerola cherry—but the flavor from the fruit is “more enhanced,” and they’re in more distinct bottles, so keep an eye out for the change. The new bottles, the first batch of which should hit the shelves within the next week or so, feature designs that highlight the single fruit that’s inside—because, as Forch pointed out, a lot of people don’t necessarily know what a guava or passion fruit looks like.

And despite being a local company with only seven employees, Caribe is expanding beyond Charlottesville into Richmond, Washington, D.C. and Miami. As for future products, Forch said they’re always looking for consumer feedback and ideas, and products like popsicles and yogurts may be on the horizon.

The other prez spot

If all you TJ-crazed foodies someday get your fill of Monticello and lunch at Michie Tavern, The Market at Grelen out by James Madison’s Montpelier is gonna be there for you. Established in 2013 as a complement to the Grelen Nursery in Somerset, the Market has recently stepped up its game with a new former C’ville chef and new event tent, all while the owners have turned a nearby farm into a bed and breakfast and worked with Montpelier to connect the two groups’ combined 10 miles of trail.

New Market chef Matt Turner comes to Grelen by way of Charlottesville hotspot Public Fish & Oyster. Over his 25 years of experience, he’s worked in Irvington and Richmond and was in the kitchen in the early days of local chef proving-grounds Jarman’s Gap and Mono Loco.

Turner will now turn his attention to a small menu of salads, soups and sandwiches while manning the Market kitchen, but according to spokesperson Leslie Gregg, he was primarily hired to keep up with Grelen’s growing event needs. “Matt is great, and he’s already been getting rave reviews,” Gregg said.

Grelen’s setup is ideal for weddings, according to Gregg, with the tent saving brides some dough and the new bed and breakfast, Spotswood Lodge, giving wedding parties a close place to crash. But the countryside spot also caters to other events like UVA graduation parties and has regular family attractions like fruit picking.