Gosh, where to begin?
So many emotions have come up in the process of closing up shop, it’s hard to explain them all. Owning a restaurant is like living in dog years — so, technically, I’ve been a restauranteur for 56 years, which is why I feel like I’ve lived three lifetimes already!
I guess my first emotion is pride. I started this venture at the ripe old age of 25, thinking that because I had some months of restaurant management and years of waiting tables under my belt that I knew what I was doing. Setting up shop in my postage stamped corner off the edge of downtown could only be so difficult, right?!
I look out into our dining room now with our candles lit, our glassware casting glittery sparkles on our gorgeous hand hewn tables and I’m so very proud. I’m just a kid from Lexington, Virginia who had never touched a glass of wine until she was 21 and I’m pretty sure it was Manischewitz. I never imagined that I would win any awards in my life, much less four Wine Spectator Awards of Excellence and be interviewed by Lettie Tieg of the Wall Street Journal. What an honor!
Which brings me to my next emotion — humility. Owning a small business is a daily excercise in humility. There is a life-long learning curve with it. I mean, who opens a restaurant barely knowing how to boil water? A know- it- all 25 year old, that’s who!
I thought I could slap some sandwiches on a George Foreman grille and call it a day. Boy, I was wrong. My first couple of weeks on — and still years into the process actually — I learned some great techniques from people who knew better than me and taught me how to cook — things like slicing an avocado, how to deseed a tomato, or how to season food with something other than just pepper.
I truly never dreamed that just a few years later I’d be in an amazing kitchen that many better chefs could only dream of. I also didn’t think I’d be the head chef anywhere. But circumstances dictate, not owners, and, so here I am with a basement full of cookbooks and a head full of knowledge.
My main emotion is thankfulness.
I’m so thankful to my parents without whom I could have never opened at 103 W. Beverley. The construction on the project was done by my father’s company and their meticulous eye for detail created this beautiful space from little more than a tinderbox. My sweet parents, both of whom own businesses, who have supported me, listened to me cry in the basement saying it was too hard, told me they loved me and then to pull it together, life is hard.
My dear brothers who would drop what they were doing at a moment’s notice because I had some crisis at the restaurant and needed them “RIGHT NOW.” I’m sure they were more than happy to pass that baton to my kind boyfriend who never fails to fix my ever-breaking refrigerators in the middle of service or rub my ever-aching shoulders after dinner service. My sweet sister who always seems to know when I need to hear her call and just say “I love you.”
Thank you to my dear extended family who would drive half way across the state just so they could come eat Mother’s Day brunch with me. My amazing group of friends who would drop plans at a minute’s notice because “I’m short staffed and have a wine dinner.”
I’m eternally grateful to my staff. Jan who taught me that an extra pinch of salt and a lot of love add just the right amount of flavor. Kyle whose acerbic and wry wit has kept me sane many a night. Lisa whose attention to detail and sweet helpful nature fixes all the little touches I overlook. Xavier whose funny side and genial nature has kept him going strong in the dish pit even when I was having a melt down over the stove. All my sweet Baldwin girls and Sam. And, even all the mercenary kitchen folk, without whom I would have never been forced out of my comfort zone and into the unknown world of kitchendom. I feel like getting behind that stove was a turning point in my life and a turning point in the restaurant.
But mostly, thanks to you, dear diners and blog readers, for following our story online and joining us through so many services. Not all of them were spectacular, but you kept coming back and I’m so very grateful to all of the wonderful people that I’ve met through this venture. It has been my honor and pleasure to serve you. Thank you so much for allowing me to do so!
— Mary Beth Harris, Proprietress, AVA Restaurant and Wine Bar