A couple of months on his shady front porch have been enough recuperation for Danny Yousef, the former proprietor of the Gateway, the gas, deli and convenience store at the intersection of Route 250 and Crozet Avenue. Yousef had been sidelined because of his health and in fact, had feared for his life when he decided to sell the business to Scott Link, a musician and chef who formerly worked at the Batesville Market.
Yousef, 70, had been hoisting 120-pound slabs of pork onto the grill for his famous barbecue. “My mind was saying ‘go, go, go,’ but my body was saying ‘no, no, no.’” Now that he’s on the mend, he said, he’s going to turn his attention to developing the land he owns next to the store, using the existing outbuilding there as his office. One of his inspirations is Abdullah Yousef, his grandfather, who lived to be 109, and worked until he was 95 in Jordan, where Danny Yousef was born, Yousef said: “I can hear him saying, ‘Don’t stop now! You have 40 years to go.’”
The younger Yousef came to Mississippi for graduate school when he was 20. He had a scholarship to MSU, where he planned to get a Ph.D. in economics. In the meantime, though, he spent time in Alexandria, went with a friend to buy a rug and met Brenda at the rug store. She became his wife a short time later.
“That was it for the scholarship,” Brenda said. “I told him I wasn’t leaving Virginia.” All in all, it wasn’t a bad exchange, Yousef said. “I tell people she’s my scholarship.”
The young man who studied economics found he had a flair for its practical applications. He operated a frozen custard shop in Northern Virginia for a while and looked for other small businesses. As it happened, he mentioned his desire to start a small business to the very man who could connect him with the former Pure gas station that later became the Gateway.
“The previous owner wanted to use it for a laundromat, but then found out he couldn’t,” Yousef said. Yousef analyzed community needs, revived the gas pumps, and added fried chicken, becoming the first of Albemarle County’s signature chicken and gasoline dispensaries. In fact, he said, he once supplied the other local gas stations with chicken.
He was no chef, he admitted, but he taught himself. He added subs, baklava and then barbecue, using a recipe he developed. “At one time, we had peppers growing everywhere,” Brenda remembers. “He used 17 different varieties for the sauce.” Brenda worked in food service in the schools, sometimes as a manager.
The Yousefs raised three sons in Crozet before renting out the business in 1989 and moving to the Valley for Danny to take a job with RJ Reynolds. When they “retired” in 2002 they returned and resumed the hectic pace of running a convenience store. “We just couldn’t help making friends out of customers,” Brenda said. Like Danny, she has goals in retirement: Learn Japanese and travel to Hawaii and Minnesota to visit her sons.
During late February, Danny worked on converting the small building just east of his former store into an office. For those interested in finding out more about his plans, or who just want to stop by, he’ll be there from 10 to 3 every weekday, he said.