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Wednesday, February 6, 2013
A landmark eatery in downtown Roanoke has closed, but the restaurant won’t be empty for long.
A Harrisonburg burger and beer restaurant, Jack Brown’s, is already busy getting the former Ernie’s space on Market Street ready for an early spring opening.
Jack Brown’s is known for its signature burgers, deep-fried Oreos and selection of 100 beers.
That’s what drew John Nielsen , a commercial real estate broker with Thalhimer, to the restaurant for lunch while in Harrisonburg for meetings last summer.
“As soon as I stepped inside, I got excited,” Nielsen said. “I thought it was a really cool concept and the complete opposite of a chain restaurant.”
As he ate, he talked with restaurant owner Aaron Ludwig and asked if he’d ever considered expanding to Roanoke.
“He put the bug in my ear, and I loved it because it was close by to my location up here,” Ludwig said.
Nielsen and Ludwig met several times in Roanoke to look at different sites, but they couldn’t find anything they liked. Before one of Ludwig’s last visits, Nielsen talked with Sean Luther , former president of Downtown Roanoke Inc., and Lisa Soltis , an economic development specialist for Roanoke. They told him that the owner of Ernie’s was looking to get out of the restaurant business.
Ernie’s owner Aimee Simmons said at the time of the closing that she had been trying to get out of the business for about two years because of rising food prices. She visited the Harrisonburg restaurant to make sure it would be a good fit for downtown Roanoke.
“Seeing the way they run their business, I just fell in love with the place,” Simmons said at the time of the closing. “I think it’s going to be a huge benefit to downtown.”
Ernie’s closed Jan. 23, the day before Ludwig bought Ernie’s equipment and took over the lease. He wouldn’t disclose how much he paid.
He said that he plans to take out the booths in favor of high-top tables, create a new bar area, upgrade the restaurant’s electrical system, install two sinks and replace the hood.
The menu includes unique burgers, such as the Elvis, with peanut butter, mayonnaise, smoked bacon and cheese; the Greg Brady, with homemade three-cheese macaroni and barbecue chips; and the Showalter, with bacon, eggs and cheese on a split, glazed doughnut.
The menu was developed by Ludwig’s childhood friend Mike Sabin, a corporate chef for Prime One Twelve in Miami.
The two met in sixth grade, played soccer together, and as teenagers amassed a collection of 1,000 beer cans.
Ludwig and Sabin remained friends as they went their separate ways, Ludwig to Radford University and Sabin to Miami.
Ludwig’s first business was Function 4 Sports, a sporting goods store in Harrisonburg that he ran for 14 years. When he grew tired of running that business, Sabin suggested they open a bar, something they had talked about doing since they were teens.
Ludwig sold the sporting goods business, and he and Sabin set off to New York City to sample burgers and get ideas for decor.
They settled on Wagyu beef, which Ludwig buys from a farm in Idaho. The meat is cooked on a flat-top griddle behind the bar, and burgers are served without lettuce and tomato.
The trip to New York also yielded ideas for decor, including a disco ball hanging from a wagon wheel.
One piece of decor holds sentimental value for Ludwig and Sabin: their beer can collection, proudly displayed at the Harrisonburg restaurant.
Gift, decor shop coming to The Forum
An interior decor and gift store that has a shop in Abingdon and a stall at Roanoke’s Black Dog Salvage is opening a store in southwest Roanoke County.
Magnolia, co-owned by Jessica Durham and her mother, Lori Noonkester , will open at The Forum shopping center on Starkey Road in March. The women are leasing the space where Toad’ly Kids closed. (That store later reopened near Towers Shopping Center under a new owner.)
Durham works as an interior decorator but said she was frustrated that she couldn’t find the items she wanted in Roanoke. She opened a stall at Black Dog Salvage in 2009. About six months later, her father suggested that they open a store in Abingdon in a commercial space he owns. Noonkester runs that store.
They decided to open a store in Roanoke because the space at Black Dog wasn’t enough, and because Durham was seeing an increase in her design business.
Durham recently attended the New York International Gift Fair , where she picked out new lines for the store.
She said that she intends to carry furniture, lighting, throw pillows, rugs and gifts such as scarves hand-loomed in India and candles made in Chicago. The store also will sell art from local artists such as Diane Patton, Mary Bullington and Jamie Nervo.
Daleville gets clothing, jewelry store
A women’s clothing and jewelry store is planning a March opening at Botetourt Commons in Daleville.
The store, Penelope, will be the company’s eighth.
Owner Penelope Searcy started her business in Lynchburg in 1988 after moving to the area and identifying a need for a women’s boutiques outside the mall.
She found a space for lease in a busy shopping center anchored by a grocery store and started selling just clothing. Over time, she began adding sterling silver jewelry to her inventory, which today dominates her sales.
The company has expanded to open stores in Richmond, Lynchburg, Midlothian, Farmville and, most recently, Forest.
Searcy decided to expand to Daleville because for years customers have been asking her to open in Roanoke. The demographics in Daleville were similar to those in Forest, and she was able to lease a space next to Kroger.
“We love being in a shopping center with an anchor store like Kroger,” Searcy said, noting that many women visit the grocery store several times a week, which will bring traffic to her store.
The Daleville store will carry clothing, purses, Tom’s shoes and jewelry lines including Pandora, Kameleon, Brighton, Lenny and Eva, and Pure Sanctuary.
Searcy said that she hopes to have the store open the first week of March to coincide with the company’s 25th anniversary.
Penelope’s employees about 130 people, including 15 at a warehouse in Appomattox, where the company’s corporate offices also are located.
Among those employees are Searcy’s husband, her two daughters and two grandchildren.
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