Business Briefs: August 2020

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Dumplin’ food truck is Chef Laura Fonner’s latest venture. Photo: Malcolm Andrews.

Chef Laura Fonner takes to the road with Dumplin’

There have been plenty of ups and downs this year for Laura Fonner. A major “up” was when the long-time Duner’s chef won the “Guy’s Grocery Game” charity challenge staged on the Food Network by Guy Fieri. But the pandemic was a huge down, closing businesses to all but takeout and curb service. It’s not easy, translating Duner’s casual fine dining into take-out, but Fonner managed it for a while until a staff member tested positive for the virus, and it was time to make a drastic change.

Fonner’s always been known for her dumplings. In fact, that’s the very food item that helped her win first place in the charity edition of Guys Grocery Games last winter. So, it was not surprising that when she made the difficult decision to leave Duner’s, she outfitted a food truck, and named it “Dumplin,’” a term of affection as well as a description of the chicken and vegetable dumplings she dispenses from the truck in Crozet as well as from various Charlottesville locations. Meanwhile, Fonner’s genuine and unpretentious style shone through so well on television that she was invited back to Guy Fieri’s “Flavortown,” this time to try her hand at winning the summer grilling competition. 

Laura Fonner and Lily Guercio. Photo: Malcolm Andrews.

Fonner sailed through the first competition without a dumpling in sight, since she was required by the luck of the draw to create kebabs. Her execution of shrimp with fresh summer seasonings, coupled with her fried chickpea panzanella salad, propelled her to the next round of the competition, which will air later this month.

So far, the demand for dumplings from Dumplin’ has been overwhelming, and she’s sold out in weekly trips to Crozet, so hungry fans are advised to plan ahead for when she makes a local visit.

Fonner also serves sliders, sandwiches, burgers and sides, all with the skill and flair that made Duner’s so popular. Locations and times change weekly, menu items are added periodically, and the best way to find out the details is on Dumplin’s Facebook page. 

Leaning into the future: Expert advises businesses to choose progress over perfection

Now is not the time for businesses to give up, or to panic and change everything, said David Deaton. Nor is it the time to do nothing. These unusual times call not only for resilience, but for a certain courage, moving ahead with small adjustments, even giving yourself permission to try and fail, “Just put something out there,” he said. “Choose progress over perfection.”

Deaton is the founder of The Deaton Group, a business he established from his Crozet home after years of experience all over the world, helping businesses find clarity about their real purpose, stay true to their mission, and retain the trust of the community.

Here’s what he recommends for businesses bewildered by changing restrictions and consumer patterns caused by the pandemic: “Let go of what was and lean into the future, creating a foundation for long-term success. If it works, then keep leaning into it.”

Crozet business advisor David Deaton at a group presentation.

But first, he said, you’ve got to know why you’re really in business, a knowledge that’s harder to zero in on than many businesses imagine. Deaton works with businesses to hammer out a well-defined vision, a meaningful mission statement and practices that adhere to their underlying values.

“Somehow, David is able to help people find this kind of clarity,” said Ann Thompson, who is one of several professionals in a close-knit group of experts who work with Deaton Group clients. “He does it by asking a series of questions and picking up key points. He’s got this kind of unusual talent that not many people have.” 

Thompson has a related Charlottesville business, Operation Productivity, and she often works with Deaton to follow through on some of the logistics that flow from larger decisions. Both Deaton and Thompson recently worked with High Tor Gear Exchange, a Charlottesville outdoor gear and clothing consignment shop. 

Seth Herman, who owns High Tor with Erin James, talked about the steps that took them from being in the red most of the time to realizing a profit while also cutting back hours. Tightly focused sessions with consigners, customers and staff shed light on every part of the business process and led to the changes that turned the business around.

When COVID-19 hit, the owners knew they needed additional help. They held weekly conference calls with Deaton and the store manager, collaborated on a pandemic plan, moved more of their business online and are still operating on nearly the same level with 60 percent of their former space. 

Thompson said both she and Deaton encourage clients to look for ways to reduce expenses. “People think that small economies don’t matter, but they can really add up.” For instance, she said, with more of your business online, you may be able to offer part of your space to another business. And she echoed Deaton’s exhortation to try something new, even if it’s not perfect. “There will never be a better time for you to experiment with your online presence,” she said. “People understand that everything is changing and there’s a high level of tolerance.” 

Deaton works with clients all over the world, and has long-term relationships with clients like High Tor, but he’s also glad to offer short consultations with local businesses challenged by changing circumstances. He recently advised Crozet health professional Mia White in her massage and wellness business, and she was able to make the far-reaching changes that were right for her. 

David and Rebecca Deaton chose Crozet many years ago when looking for a place to raise a young family. After leaving for a few years with their first two children to work in Asia, he and his family returned with a third child. “Somehow, our house had shrunk,” he said.  

Now in a larger home, Deaton said that some of the current changes prompted by COVID are a continuation of a trend already in progress before the pandemic, a movement that has vast entrepreneurial possibilities. He noted that out of 20 or so families in his neighborhood, five have fathers who were already working from home. That means they’re the ones in the house when the children are home, doing the online schooling, providing snacks and transportation, he said. “This is not the business world of the ’50s.”

Fearless examination of every cost associated with operations can trim expenses; questioning from an experienced outsider can prod businesses to find the clarity they need to understand their vision and to come up with the most succinct mission statement possible, but businesses often overlook the third and most important pillar of survival, according to Deaton. “Defining your values and sticking to them has to do more than sound good,” he said; “it has to be more than perfunctory. It will determine your culture and ultimately, your success and longevity.”

Find more about Deaton group and a case study of Mia White’s Crozet business at deatongroupllc.com.

To learn more about Operation Productivity, visit operationproductivity.com.

Second Saturdays features innovative artisans, original performance 

In August, Crozet Artisan Depot and Two Owls Pottery will have live events to celebrate the return of “second Saturdays,” an area-wide monthly celebration of the arts. Local performing company, Hamner Theater, will stage a virtual event.

Mosaics by Johannah Willsey will be displayed at the Crozet Artisans Depot through August. Submitted photo.

Meet artists Johannah Willsey and Kyle Lucia from Richmond, who, as Phoenix Handcraft, adapt the ancient arts of blacksmithing and mosaics to today’s audience. Willsey makes intricate hand-cut mosaics of glass and ceramic, and Lucia forges metal sculptures and small furniture. The show, at the Crozet Artisans Depot, will be from August 1-31. Also throughout the month, Christina Boy of Madison County displays her simple wood furniture that incorporates texture, pattern and color to blend classic modern with rural rustic design, all from domestic, locally sourced, and salvaged woods. Meet the artists at the Depot from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. Saturday, August 8.

Royal Shiree presents an original performance of Boomtown for Hamner Theater. Submitted photo.

Everyone’s invited to watch a Zoom reading of Boomtown, a play by Royal Shiree, inspired by the Newtown community in the aftermath of the Greenwood chemical plant explosion. Following the play, which begins at 5 p.m., there will be a conversation about the issues it brings up. RSVP, by 4 p.m. Saturday to [email protected] hamnertheater.com in order to receive the Zoom invitation. The event is free, but donations will be accepted.

At Two Owls Pottery, 5135 Halcyon Drive, meet artist Roslyn Nuesch as she demonstrates making pottery from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. 

Find a map to all locations involved in second Saturdays at www.SecondSaturdayCrozet.com

Second Saturdays follows all Department of Health guidelines by limiting the number of people allowed inside at once and regular cleaning. Masks are required.

Construction crews put the finishing touches on the long-awaited Ivy Road House, set to open in September. Photo: Malcolm Andrews.

Biz Bits

In burger news, the Tailgate Grill, Waynesboro’s premier burger destination, was a casualty of the COVID-19 lockdown, closing until further notice. A new place specializing in burgers has opened up across the city. The River Burger Bar is headed by Mandi Smack, who co-owns Blue Mountain Brewery, Blue Mountain Barrel House and South Street Brewery. Smack completely remodeled the former Jake’s Bar and Grill inside and added some tables outside. She said she’s had good community support, with hungry citizens grabbing her creative burgers (the Waynesburger is a favorite) as well as the “potachos,” a nachos variation using puffed potatoes. 

Wayland’s Crossing Tavern, known for its intimate, pub-like atmosphere and chef-driven menu, opened in the fall of 2017 in Old Trail, but did not survive the Coronavirus lockdown and has closed for good.

Everyone with a sweet tooth was relieved to see The Crozet Creamery resume its every-day business hours (Sunday to Thursday, 12 to 8; Friday and Saturday 12 to 9) as well as continuing its rotating selection of carryout pints. Stuart Rifkin, one of the owners of the long-awaited Ivy Road House, said the restaurant at Rtes. 240 and 250 will be open by Labor Day, if there are no more pandemic surprises. Watch for details in the September Gazette.  

Crozet Creamery now open every day.

Rod Phillips of REMAX bought the venerable Blue Goose building and adjoining lot on Crozet Avenue from the Western Albemarle Rescue Squad, which in turn had bought the five lots from former Blue Goose owner Sandy Wilcox. This will be the new home for the squad (see page 1). Rod and Christy Phillips will eventually develop their part of the property, but that’s a few years down the road, Rod Phillips said. “I’m so glad everything worked out in a way that avoided further development and benefitted county citizens.”  Another beneficiary: the Crozet Farmers Market (see “Why,” page 4) which has been assembling this year each Saturday in the grassy field behind the property and will be able to continue to do so.

Pro Re Nata invites those wanting to leave home for meetings or to work to set up at the brewery, paying “rent” in items purchased. Find details on PRN’s Facebook page. It might be an environmentally friendly choice: The popular brewery reported that its first full month of solar power measured 8000 kWp used on site and 5500 kWp sent to the grid.

Those looking for local vegetables in the middle of the week can find plenty at Greenwood Gardens. In August, there should be corn, beans, melons and tomatoes raised in Stuarts Draft. 

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