The Ivy Inn, an acclaimed local fine-dining staple, rests comfortably in the shady greenery of Old Ivy Road. Klockner Stadium is just beyond the treeline, but in midsummer you would never know it was there while sitting in the outdoor dining space surrounded by lush flora. Once a tollhouse and tavern for travelers on the road to Virginia’s capital city, the historic property blends perfectly into the architectural chic of Charlottesville.
The original structure was built in 1715 and was partially destroyed by a fire in the early 1800s. Reconstruction of the property was funded by Jesse Pittman Lewis, a soldier and close confidant of Thomas Jefferson. The land changed hands several times, at one point purchased by the University of Virginia as part of the larger Faulkner Estate, named for William Faulkner, the esteemed author and writer-in-residence at the university. The building that houses the Ivy Inn Restaurant, as it is known today, is just over 200 years old, with most of the original construction still intact.
The restaurant recently celebrated its 25th anniversary under owner and head chef Angelo Vangelopoulos, who purchased the inn with his father, Tom, in 1995. After graduating from The Culinary Institute of America in 1990 and gaining experience beyond the pizza kitchens in which he grew up, Angelo was ready to find a restaurant he could call his own. He says they “spent almost a year looking at available properties in D.C., NoVa, and suburban Maryland with no luck. We expanded our search to central Virginia and quickly came upon the Ivy Inn for sale. A month later, we were moving to C’ville.”
Descended from a long line of restaurateurs, Angelo knew early on that he was bound for food service. “I was 12 years old, we went to Blackie’s House of Beef in D.C.,” he recalls. “I had filet mignon and lobster tail and thought it was the greatest thing ever. I remember looking up at this ornate chandelier and saying out loud, ‘This is the kind of restaurant I want to own!’”
The Vangelopoulos’ culinary legacy stretches back over 80 years to the Greek village of Velventos, less than 20 miles from the real Mount Olympus. Here, Angelo’s grandfather, who he is named after, opened a bakery that became a central hub of commerce. Angelo says his father, the youngest of seven children, worked in the bakery, learning to cook from his grandmother, and carrying water from the village center every day to make bread. In 1965, Tom immigrated to the U.S. to take a job with his brother in Raleigh, North Carolina, at the aptly named Brother’s Pizza.
Over the next decade, Tom and his wife moved around the country, working at a phyllo dough factory in Cleveland, a pizzeria in northern Virginia, and a vertical gyro rotisserie in D.C. Finally, they settled at Victor’s, a Greek-Italian pizza parlor in Springfield, Virginia, where they served homestyle classics for another 18 years.
“It’s the restaurant I grew up in, though I have memories of most of them,” explains Angelo. “I learned by watching [my father] and his dedicated work ethic.”
Today, Angelo works closely with his dad in the kitchen. His wife, Farrell, is general manager and his brother-in-law is his sous chef. However, it’s not just DNA that keeps the Ivy Inn afloat. The Vangelopoulos team works hard to make its staff feel as close as family. Most famously, Angelo likes to thank his staff and their families each year with an Easter feast. After the pandemonium of the inn’s Sunday brunch, a gyro of roast goat, served in the property’s garden, transitions to a center of enjoyment and relaxation for the restaurant’s crew.
As word of the paschal celebration has spread, the event has grown in popularity. Angelo’s most recent dinner boasted a crowd of almost 250 people, attracting renowned chefs from the area’s fine-dining juggernauts.
“The restaurant business is a high stress environment. Good people naturally come together to help one another get through the tough parts,” Angelo says. “The chef might have been hard on you, your customers maybe not as friendly as usual. You come out the other side a little closer and you learn to lean on one another…family, in the restaurant, includes everyone.”
Tom lists his education on Facebook as coming from the School of Hard Knocks, exactly what you would expect from a hard-working family man who started several successful restaurants from the ground up. Yet, his successor had grander intentions. With a desire to broaden his mindset and encouragement from his favorite cousin, Angelo opted for a more formal education.
“Once I learned that I could spend all day every day doing nothing but learning about food and cooking, it was an easy decision. The advantage I have going to CIA is my exposure to so many different cuisines and their respective techniques. That’s where my dad can grow, and he’s still, at age 81, asking me questions all the time. He loves to learn new things.”
Angelo admits, though, that the difference in perspectives can lead to butting heads with his father in the kitchen. He is more willing to tweak and experiment with classic recipe, while Tom is a purist, committed to doing things exactly the way he learned them from his mother, brothers, and sisters.
Tom no longer co-owns the restaurant, but he still bakes the inn’s housemade breads and prepares a personal selection of takeout dishes (moussaka, pastitsio, flakey spanakopita) via Mr. V’s Pantry. Family has been a cornerstone of the Ivy Inn over the past quarter century, and a tenet of the Vangelopoulos name for longer. And even during this volatile time for local businesses, the father-son relationship remains at the heart of the restaurant, and an essential part of Charlottesville’s culinary community. —Will Ham