Piedmont Place: One Address, Many Stories
By Theresa Curry
The Crozet community has been watching the evolution of the collection of entrepreneurs at 2025 Library Avenue with great interest. Most are open now, a couple will be open soon; Piedmont Place developer Drew Holzwarth said he’s close to announcing the tenant who will fill the one remaining space. It’s no secret, he said, that it will most likely be an organic butcher shop.
The composition of the bright new space is not random, Holzwarth noted. Although there was some flexibility in his vision for the bright new building, he had definite ideas: shops that didn’t overlap with existing, successful businesses; a mix of dining and shopping opportunities; a common area that could serve as a meeting place as well as a comfortable place to enjoy the products of the shops. Holzwarth recruited several businesses he admired, some signed on as soon as they found out about it, and one was recruited by an existing tenant. Each one has a story of hard work and hope.
Jennifer Blanchard and Keely Hass: Morsel Compass
They loved to cook and were both die-hard fans of the Food Network, but it was still a stretch four years ago when the two long-time friends invested in a food truck business, the original bright green Morsel Compass on wheels. Blanchard was an ice-skating instructor and Hass had dabbled in hospitality, re-strung rackets at the Boar’s Head Inn Sports Club and served as a travel agent. Once they embarked on their mobile adventure, they kept their business plan simple and focused on the quality of their product.
It worked. But after a few years of serving hungry Charlottesville workers their signature flatbreads and tacos stuffed with fresh greens, beans and meat, the Crozet residents grew weary of commuting. Hass has twin seniors at Western Albemarle and Blanchard’s children, 6 and 8 years old, are at Brownsville.
“This was the logical next step,” said Blanchard, speaking about the opening of their spotless new kitchen on the main floor of Piedmont Place. Because the shops are surrounded by tables and chairs in the bright common area, businesses on this floor don’t need their own space for patrons to eat or drink.
She sees it not just as the next step for their business, but for the community. “When we moved to Crozet, there was very little for people to do,” she said. “This type of marketplace really fits here.”
The response has been great. “Our friends have stopped by to make sure we have customers, that we’re all right,” Hass said.
“I feel like we are part of a team,” Blanchard said. “We want everyone to do well.”
What you’ll find at Morsel Compass: Tacos and flatbreads loaded with fresh ingredients and seasoned with inspiration from all corners of the earth, with soups and sides. Most popular are the “Carne Asada,” (steak tacos) for $9 with one side. Other entrees, which include some vegan and gluten-free options, are $8, $4 for children’s meals. Open Tuesday – Saturday 11 a.m. to 7 p.m.; Sunday 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. morselcompass.com
Michael Comer: Crozet Creamery
Michael Comer didn’t really expect to open an ice cream shop at 21 years old, but he has the background for it. He comes from a family of entrepreneurs, including one of the founders of the venerable Virginian on Charlottesville’s Corner. When he opens his main-floor ice cream shop at Piedmont Place later this month, he’ll be a couple of months shy of graduation from James Madison University, where he commutes one day a week to finish his degree.
Comer is studying marketing and political science, and his interest in communications led him to an internship with developer Drew Holzwarth. “We worked well together,” he said. “I knew that Drew had definite ideas about what he wanted there, and part of the plan was an ice cream shop.”
Despite his entrepreneurial heritage, Michael was not an obvious candidate for this role: “I’ve never even made ice cream at home,” he admitted. “But I could certainly see why it was a good fit.” Like Holzwarth, he believed that ice cream would lend an upbeat, happy, family atmosphere to the collection of specialty shops at Piedmont Place.
No one stepped forward, so Comer decided he would fill the gap. Learning the process was not a problem. “Once you buy the equipment, the manufacturer provides training,” he said. His emphasis will be on wholesome, traditional ingredients, cleanliness and fun.
He hopes to encourage this atmosphere by hiring the right people. “So far, I’ve interviewed 35 young people, mostly from Western. I’m looking for big smiles, engagement with the public, a welcoming attitude.”
Like the women at Morsel Compass, Comer sees many ways the businesses can help each other. There are all kinds of ideas flying around: he sees people coming to the Creamery for dessert after eating at Morsel Compass or Smoked; an art show in the common area curated by Over the Moon Bookstore & Artisans Gallery, a beer and ice-cream tasting with The Bottle Shop.
Comer grew up east of Charlottesville, but is now a Crozet resident. “I go back to my old neighborhood and think, “Where are the mountains?”
What you’ll find at Crozet Creamery: Ice cream, including plant-based varieties, natural colors and flavors, nuts, marshmallows, fruit, cookies, candy incorporated into the ice cream rather than offered as toppings; milk shakes and “no neon colors,” Comer says. He’s still establishing prices and will offer a selection of traditional flavors and rotating specials. Opening early February. crozetcreamery.com
Justin van der Linde: Smoked Kitchen and Tap
When Smoked opened its doors last month on the plaza level of Piedmont Place, it was immediately filled with patrons, and that’s continued almost every day and night since. As you might expect, it’s been crazy, but Justin van der Linde, its owner and chef, isn’t flustered: “You always hope for the best and prepare for the worst,” he said. “This is not our first rodeo.”
Like several of his neighbors at 2025 Library Avenue, the chef is a food truck alumnus. That wasn’t his first rodeo either: he’s classically trained and has dabbled in a variety of culinary ventures. The food truck, also called Smoked, was an immediate, overwhelming success and he admits to a little surprise about that. Before that, he was the owner and chef––with his wife, Candice–– of the Carving Board Cafe, Albemarle Square’s popular bustling lunch spot, until they sold it in 2010. Holzwarth had been a steady patron and approached van der Linde and a business partner (The Fitzroy’s Kelley Tripp) with the idea of a bricks-and-mortar operation at Piedmont Place.
After years of working with high-quality, perfectly-smoked meat, van der Linde has no reservations about the results of his long, grueling hours at the smoker. “We’re on to something with this product,” he said. “There is just no cheating.” He hopes to refine the other aspects of the operation as time goes by and he learns more about what Crozet customers want.
Justin and Candice are the parents of 15-month-old and newborn babies. Although van der Linde commutes to Crozet from Charlottesville, he hasn’t found it particularly grueling. “Traffic’s not bad at 2 a.m.,” he said. “In fact, it moves pretty fast.”
There’s a humility about the young chef that’s surprising in light of his string of successes. “We’re working every day on getting better,” he said. “We’ve had a great response here in Crozet. I thank the community for their support.”
What you’ll find at Smoked Kitchen and Tap: Slow-smoked barbecue, fried chicken: plates $9-$18; fresh, side dishes, starters and salads, house-made barbecue sauce; $9 burgers; children’s portions, vegetarian and vegan options, family friendly and lively bar. Open for lunch and dinner daily. smokedkt.com/smoked.
Sometime in the next month or so, van der Linde will open The Rooftop. “It takes longer to do all the finish work when you’re creating a spectacular environment,” he said. The requirements of The Rooftop’s menu will allow the chef to use some of the lessons he learned at Johnson and Wales and in the chef-led kitchens of his past. “We’ll have a creative menu, some small plates, the wood-fired pizza,” he said. The opening of a sky bar during the year’s darkest, coldest months doesn’t scare him. “We have a lot of indoor room, maybe space for 50 or 60 people inside.” Also available for those who want to rush the season are outdoor heaters and blankets.
What you’ll find at The Rooftop: Beautiful views, small plates, craft cocktails, wood-fired pizza, indoor and outdoor seating, great ambience. Check opening date and hours on website, also at smokedkt.com.
Beth Harley: Smojo
Forget fine dining, high-end pastry making, French cuisine, and demanding sauces. Beth Harley, the proprietor of Smojo, believes the cook’s biggest challenge is to produce delicious, healthy food every day for a hungry family.
It’s not that Harley can’t handle the pastry or haute cuisine. She interned at The Inn at Little Washington, the first American five-star Mobil award winner, and worked as the pastry chef and bread maker at Duner’s. She had worked at the Virginian while she was an undergrad at U.Va., and fell in love with cooking and hospitality.
Fast forward a few years, past a cooking school diploma and the years at The Inn and Duner’s. Harley’s a young mother of two in Washington State, and she’s finding that it is not easy to convince her children to eat the fruits and vegetables that are good for them, especially when surrounded by the less-than-healthy examples of “kid food” everywhere.
“And when children are hungry, everything falls apart,” she said. “Children tend to love smoothies and juices, and both are able to incorporate a lot of healthy foods without anyone being the wiser.” She started making smoothies and juices for them as an on-the-spot answer to the ferocious hunger of her growing daughters.
Ultimately, she missed Virginia and moved to Crozet five years ago. One of her daughters is just starting at Western: the other will graduate in June. Harley decided to use her training plus her experience as a home cook to make a living close to home, coupling the smoothie trend with the growing food truck movement to found Smojo, the traveling smoothie, juice and healthy snack dispenser.
As with the other proprietors at Piedmont Place, there was some serendipity to her move from the truck to the main floor there. She parked her truck at Duner’s every Tuesday to serve the western Albemarle community. “One of my customers was Ashley (Holland) of Santosha, and she told me about the marketplace.” It all fell in place after that.
Harley plans to expand her offerings a bit to take advantage of the extra space. She’s located a local grower of greens and one for tea. She’s still thinking about the best possible hours for her operation, and would like to offer something for early morning patrons of Santosha. “I’ve found over the years that it’s not only children who kind of crumble when they’re hungry,” she said. “We all do.”
What you’ll find at Smojo: Smoothies, mostly $6; juices by the ounce, ingredients mostly plant-based and gluten-free, salads and healthy snacks, from $4. Limited coffee service. Open Monday – Friday 7 a.m. to 6 p.m., Saturday 9 a.m. to 6 p.m., Sunday 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. facebook.com/smojosmoothies
Anne DeVault: Over the Moon Bookstore & Artisan Gallery
Anne DeVault was one of the first tenants of the marketplace section of Piedmont Place, hauling her boxes of books, fine crafts and arts from across the tracks with the help of loyal local customers who helped her pack and shelve—an indication, she said, of the strong connection between book lovers. DeVault had owned, with her sister, Laura, the store on Three Notched Road for six years.
DeVault’s interest in books, though, dates back to some of her first memories as a young teenager. “I’ve known since I was 12 years old that I wanted to be involved with a bookstore,” she said. In the years since then, she’s worked in bookstores in every possible role, as well as working at a number of jobs in publishing.
She’s excited to be with a collection of business owners, and believes the variety will increase foot traffic for all. Also, “It was sometimes difficult to park at the old site,” she said. The larger space will allow her to increase her selection of eclectic artisanal housewares and gifts. On display currently are some beautiful handmade kitchen tools, colorful socks, coin purses, pottery and jewelry. The new space is light-filled and made brighter by the bold colors of the artisanal offerings. There’s a standard for the local and non-local gift items DeVault chooses to sell: “They need to be high quality,” she said. “And mostly, I need to like them.”
As for the books, DeVault has a blend: fiction and non-fiction, mysteries and children’s books, young adult literature. “Something for everyone.”
On Sunday, Feb. 5, at 6:30 p.m., the bookstore will present Mary Ann Marlowe, author of “Some Kind of Magic,” her first book. The book’s heroine is a scientist who’s swept off her feet by a rock star. Those on hand may get a signed copy of Marlowe’s book while checking out the new space and—DeVault promises—munching on cake.
Over the Moon Bookstore & Artisans Gallery also participates in Crozet’s “Second Saturday” art openings and will feature the paintings of John Golock at a reception Feb. 11 from 6 to 8 p.m.
What you’ll find at Over the Moon Bookstore & Artisans Gallery: a wide collection of books, mostly recently published, in every genre. Big selection of children’s and young adult books. Artisanal gifts, small items of clothing, jewelry, art work. Special events to meet the author or artist monthly. Open every day, from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., Sundays 12 – 5 p.m. overthemoonbookstore.com
Shawn and Colleen Miller: Blue Ridge Bottle Shop
Most evenings, Shawn and Colleen Miller meet and exchange their children. He picks them up as he returns from his work as a software engineer at Centurylink in Charlottesville and she’s finishing her shift at the Blue Ridge Bottle Shop, the couple’s new venture at Piedmont Place. Their children, 2 1/2 and 5 years old, go to school locally, and Shawn takes over at the shop to serve those who drop in after work.
The worst part: “Well, we’re exhausted and I miss my children,” Shawn said. “But we’re closed Mondays and they’re often off on Mondays, so I try to do everything possible with them in one day.”
The best part: “We were drawn to this by our love of craft beer.” The shop reflects his love as well as his knowledge. “We have space limitations, of course,” he says, “but most of what you see here is here because I like it.”
Like Over the Moon’s DeVault, he was an early tenant, and much awaited by the growing legions who appreciate good beer and cider as well as wine. The couple wanted to be open for the holidays as well as for winter football Sundays. “I’ve been pleasantly surprised at the number of people coming in to refill growlers,” he said.
It was a gamble, he admits. “We had no retail experience.” Colleen works in her off hours as a wedding planner, the same profession as Chloe Watkins of Santosha, Miller noted.
Colleen knew something about wine, and in preparation for opening the shop, did a lot of research, he said. “We’ve got a good repeat business and hope to get better and bigger. We try to respond to what people want.”
He’s in a great position to identify local trends. Right now he’s watching a kind of cult growing around the Minute Man New England IPA brewed by Charlottesville’s Three Notch’d Brewing Co. “There’s a growing appreciation of what’s called the ‘New England’ style,” he said.
Despite their hard work, the Millers knew that the opening of Piedmont Place was right in line with what they had been dreaming of: “I feel like the train was already going, and I just hopped on,” Shawn said.
What you’ll find at the Blue Ridge Bottle Shop: Carefully curated selection of beer and wine, many hard to find locally. Rotating selection of draft beer, Kombucha on tap, snack and food items, glasses and shirts. Build your own six pack or refill growlers. Prices vary, tastings are $4. Closed Monday. Open Tuesday – Friday 11 a.m. – 8 p.m.; Saturday 12 p.m. – 6 p.m.; Sunday 12 – 5 p.m. blueridgebottleshop.com.
Chloe Watkins and Ashley Holland: Santosha Yoga Crozet
Long-time members of the Crozet yoga community, Watkins and Holland have joined together to open Santosha (“Contentment”), a vinyasa yoga studio in the plaza level of Piedmont Place. Both had been seeking a place where everyone was welcome to practice. The placement of their restful studio allows students to attend class while other family members sample barbecue, buy a book or enjoy ice cream. Reached from either the side entrance or down the stairs from the main level, the studio’s offerings will expand in time to include children’s classes and pre-natal yoga. That’s a subject that interests them both: Watkins has a newborn baby, and Holland’s baby is almost a year old.
There are other parallels between the two women who moved in the same circles but didn’t really know each other until shortly before this venture, and with others sharing their address. Watkins grew up at her family’s Veritas Vineyard and Holland’s husband is the winemaker at Afton. Holland was the one who put Smojo owner Beth Harley in touch with Piedmont Place developer Drew Holzwarth: “Yoga and fresh juices just seem to go together,” Holland said. Like Colleen Miller at the Blue Ridge Bottle Shop, Watkins has a second job as a wedding planner.
Like Harley, they found their place through a thoughtful suggestion. “We’d looked everywhere and couldn’t find a suitable place,” Watkins said. Someone at Crozet Running let them know this space was open for leasing and they discovered that Holzwarth had been hoping the small space would end up as an exercise studio.
“Crozet is a cool community,” Watkins said. “We’re really happy we’re here.”
What you’ll found at Santosha Yoga Crozet: Classes for every level, including slow-flow, yin and heated yoga. Special offers for new students. Special events and workshops. Prices and times vary, with fees adjusted for multiple sessions. Find times and prices on website or download the free “Mind-body” scheduling app. www.crozetyoga.com.
Correction: The print edition of this article referred to the Minute Man IPA as brewed by Champion Brewery. It is actually brewed by Three Notch’d Brewing Co. Additionally, Chloe Watkins was told about the lease availability by Crozet Running, not Ragged Mountain Running.