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Restaurant at center of Charles Town's revitalization

November 16, 2008|By DAVE McMILLION and HEATHER KEELS

CHARLES TOWN, W.Va. - Jazz music plays in the background, and beige walls and dark-brown accent lighting at the tables give the place a distinctive feel.

Employees of the Dish restaurant busily go in and out of doors from work areas, a scenario that has played out daily since the establishment opened Oct. 16 at 213 W. Washington St., co-owner Doug Vaira said.

Such a restaurant in an old town is not typical, Vaira said. In today's market, many communities grow around a vision of big-box stores, which Vaira said no one can stop.

Vaira said he didn't want to follow that pattern and instead wanted to invest in an old town that has a lot of promise and "great bones."

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Pumping new life into downtown has been explored for at least five years, and city officials are looking at redeveloping about 100 acres of former industrial areas along the southwest side of the Charles Town-Ranson line.

Charles Town City Councilwoman Ann Paonessa leads an economic redevelopment committee that is assessing downtown's strengths, weaknesses and threats. Glimpses of new life downtown are slowly appearing, she said.

Those offerings include C.W. Tiffins, a restaurant at 210 W. Liberty St. that plays off the history of a home built in 1788 by Dr. Edward Tiffin, who left Charles Town in the late 1700s to become Ohio's first governor.

The Charles Town Corner Cafe is getting ready to open in the former Daily Grind location at the intersection of Liberty and George streets, while the Dish is an excellent example of putting one of downtown's buildings to a new use, Paonessa said.

"I think people need to understand it's not an overnight process," Paonessa said of the revitalization effort.

Paonessa is a partner in the group BAKKA LLC, which in 2004 purchased the Dish building along with 215 and 217 W. Washington St. Other partners in the group are Paonessa's husband, Aaron Amore, and Charles Town attorney Jim Kratovil and his wife, Bonnie.

Dream House, a retail furniture store owned by the Kratovils and Vaira's wife, Cassandra, was at 213 W. Washington St., but moved next door to allow for Dish.

Vaira said Dish is the kind of business that will further drive redevelopment for downtown because "case study after case study" has shown that a good restaurant will draw people into an area. "It's the incubator," he said.

Vaira said people have been crowding into his restaurant since it opened and he believes it reflects the desire of people to eat downtown if there is something to draw them there.

The Vairas tackled a big project to make Dish possible, investing about $225,000 in the building. The work included a new kitchen, a bar that seats 10 and a dining area that holds about 60 people.

Dish prides itself in using ingredients from local growers, and items on the menu include appetizers such as crab cakes with curry lemongrass sauce and zucchini, and entrees such as an 8-ounce filet with blue cheese butter atop braised kale and a sweet potato pancake.

Laura Cox, who operates Nellie's Consignment Gallery at Washington and Charles streets, said there are shortfalls in the downtown redevelopment process, including not having a paid staff member at City Hall to help direct the process.

As a result, those trying to lead the process have to "reinvent the wheel" to make progress, said Cox, a member of Paonessa's downtown economic redevelopment committee.

"It's a lovely little town. It has tons of potential," Cox said.

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