For years, Mike Fitzgerald has arrived at the Spudnut Shop at 309 Avon St. between 1 and 1:30am to get started on the day ahead. He’ll have a cup of coffee, check on the equipment and begin to make the first batch of potato flour donuts—he’ll mix the dough and let it rise, then roll it out, cut the donuts and fry them before glazing. If everything goes smoothly, it takes about three hours to make a single batch.
By the time Spudnuts opens at 6am, the first batch of donuts is ready and warm, and Mike’s wife, Lori, is at the counter, ready to nestle donuts into boxes for large orders, or to serve regulars their usual glazed donut—“the king of ’em all,” Lori says—and a cup of coffee.
The Fitzgeralds have run Spudnuts since 2005, after Lori’s father—Richard Wingfield, who opened the shop in 1969—passed away. Lori’s worked at the shop her entire life, and Mike started helping out shortly after he and Lori met, around 20 years ago. “He didn’t know how lucky he was—getting a wife and a donut shop,” Lori says, laughing.
So it was only after many, many months of careful consideration that the Fitzgeralds have decided to close their beloved Spudnuts at the end of December.
“Sometimes you feel like it’s time to do something else,” Lori says. “If you’ve been in a business [for this long], to carry on something that you take great care of is a lot of work. It keeps you awake for many hours.”
The couple says closing was a difficult decision to make, particularly because the business is doing well and they don’t feel overrun by other donut shops that have opened in town over the past few years. A while ago, they cut back Spudnuts’ hours, just to see how it went, how it felt.
Eventually, closing seemed like the right thing to do. Mike had wanted to spend more time with his father after closing the shop, but his father passed away last August.
The Fitzgeralds have thought a lot about what they’ll do next, and while they don’t have any definite plans (except for adopting a more regular sleep schedule), one thing is certain: The business is not for sale at this time.
“It’s as much a loss for us as it is for Charlottesville,” Lori says. The Fitzgeralds’ son, G. Michael, grew up at Spudnuts—Lori remembers him sitting in a high chair, eating his lunch with regulars and bouncing between the tables in his walker, a coconut donut in hand. G. Michael, now a senior in high school, began working the register and making change when he was a kid and says he loved sitting on a ladder in the back room to get a bird’s-eye view of donut-making every morning before school.
“We’ve had more fun than heartache,” Lori says. Every morning, a group of 70-to-80-year-old locals sit together with their donuts and coffee at the table furthest from the door, talking. Lori says she’ll miss serving up a bit of sweetness to them first thing in the morning.
“My father used to say, ‘Brighten the corner where you are,’” Lori says. “Hopefully that’s what set us apart for all these years.”
A new saison
Restaurateur Wilson Richey thinks there’s a lot of great beer being brewed in and around Charlottesville. And while there’s plenty of good beer, he says there’s not a lot of high-quality, beer-inspired food being made to pair with it. Pizza and wings just don’t cut it, he says.
“Everyone loves beer, so why not present a cuisine that’s just as interesting and has a very long history?” Richey says about the inspiration for his newest restaurant, Brasserie Saison, set to open this February on the Downtown Mall in the former Jean Theory spot.
Brasserie Saison, a collaboration between Richey and Champion Brewing Co. owner Hunter Smith, will offer Benelux cuisine (food of the Low Countries: Belgium, Luxembourg and The Netherlands, with some Polish, Austrian and German influence) and exclusive specialty beers brewed on-site by Smith and the Champion team.
Richey, the man behind Revolutionary Soup, The Whiskey Jar, The Pie Chest, The Alley Light and The Bebedero, says the Brasserie Saison kitchen and brewing operations will go hand in hand; the menus will be planned far in advance to give brewers the time to brew complementary beers.
Tyler Teass, most recently executive sous chef at D.C.’s Rose’s Luxury restaurant, will lead the kitchen. Before landing in D.C., Teass worked as sous chef at the Clifton Inn and at L’etoile.
The Brasserie Saison menu will change with some regularity, but Richey says it’ll be heavy on vegetable-based and vegetarian dishes, like marinated beets and grilled endive, with a focus on local produce and proteins. They’ll also have smoked meat, duck sausage, carbonnade (beef braised in strong ale and served with egg noodles) and a mussels dish that Richey says is “not a precious little bit, but a big bowl with French fries and sauces.”
The beers will be “really unlike other beers we’ve done at Champion,” Smith says, such as lambics, saisons and Belgian wheat beers, brewed and kegged in a space underneath the restaurant, then hooked up to a draft system in the upstairs bar. All the beer brewed at Brasserie Saison will be sold there—nowhere else. They’ll probably fill growlers, Smith says, but they’ll likely cost more than normal, because of the specialty beer.
Leah Peeks, beverage and events director for The Whiskey Jar, will have the same role at the Brasserie, running the bar program that, in addition to beer, will include cocktails and a wine list; she’ll bring over Reid Dougherty from The Whiskey Jar to manage day-to-day bar operations.
Brasserie Saison will seat 45 diners inside and another 30 on the patio. It’ll be open daily from 11am to 2:30pm for lunch and from 5 to 10pm for dinner, with late-night hours on the weekends.
Richey says they’ll have specials on both the food and bar menus—such as a curated list of Richey and Smith’s favorite bottled Belgian and Dutch beers—to keep customers intrigued.