In the age of the corporate mega store all small businesses require our support, even more so after this tough year of lockdown. Today, in honor of National Mom & Pop Business Owners Day, we pay tribute to some unique local businesses where mom – or pop – still hold court.
Fifteen years ago, Tammy Hines was working part time as a waitress at a down home diner next to the gas station in Round Hill. A year later, with help from the shop workers at the gas station, she bought the place. Today, Tammy’s Diner is a western Loudoun institution serving classics such as Blueberry Pancakes for breakfast and Steak and Cheese for lunch, from 6.30 a.m.-2 p.m., six days a week. During the lockdown, local resident Matthew Seers launched a GoFundMe campaign to help Tammy stay open. The project raised more than $12,000 and kept her in business. “I was sinking, he saw me struggling and helped,” said Tammy. “He’s been a rock to me, as have all my customers and supporters in this wonderful community.” With that new lease on life, other changes are afoot at Tammy’s: the diner started accepting credit cards for the first time this month.
There can be few more consistently popular restaurants in Loudoun than this astonishingly friendly Mediterranean-Italian eatery on the outskirts of Purcellville. Afghan born owner Tony Keya knows the customers by name, still helps cook in the kitchen and is quick to recommend his favorite new Italian wine. Food wise, the pasta, pizza and bruschetta are great, but Tony’s Middle Eastern roots really come out in the delicious Mediterranean Sampler (hummus, falafel, grape leaves, baba ganoush, salad with pita) and in the sublimely fresh and simple Chicken Kabob: flame-grilled marinated chicken cubes served over rice with grilled vegetables and a side of spicy yogurt sauce. A steal at $13. Where to sit? In winter get a booth or bar stool in the main room; in summer the covered patio out front is the place to be.
When Tisha Downes and her chef husband Bill opened Urbano Modern Italian in Sterling in 2020, at the height of the pandemic, it was literally in tribute to a mom and pop: Tisha’s great grandparents, Freddy and Jenni Urbano, who started Freddy’s Tavern in West Trenton, New Jersey during another crisis: the Great Depression of 1933. Freddy’s Tavern became a New Jersey institution over the next 86 years before closing in 2019. At its sparkling new incarnation in the Cascades Overlook complex, the Downes couple bring modern twists to old-world Italian classics with dishes such as Tuscan roasted rosemary pork loin, a sizzling octopus pizzaiolo and ricotta and spinach ravioli. Salut!
Not so much mom and pop as mom and best friend, the Dinner Belles is the brainchild of longtime Lovettsville mom and caterer Michelle McIntyre and her artist and entrepreneur friend Jill Evans-Kavaldjian, who also designed Lovettsville’s 12-by-6-foot LOVE sign displayed on the town square. Their cozy stand-alone in a century-old former feed store downtown is part upmarket grocery, part catering company. Jill does the groceries – fine wine, craft beer, local cheese, charcuterie, eggs, dairy, coffee – while Michelle, inspired by Martha Stewart and Anthony Bourdain, prepares gourmet meals: soups, quiches, herb salmon cakes, sesame chicken thighs and the like for one, two or four people. Sign up for their subscription meal service: made-from-scratch family meals up to four nights a week.
Drive through sleepy Hamilton on route to Purcellville and you can’t miss Lowry's Crab Shack on the right side of the road as you leave town. Donald and Leslie Lowry opened the rustic eatery in 2007, selling hard and softshell Chesapeake Bay crabs (live or steamed), shrimp, crab cakes, fresh fish, chowder, oysters on the 1/2 shell and ice-cold beer. Leslie’s father Rudy Williams had sold seafood in Hamilton since the 1970s, and Leslie started Lowry’s Farm Market before focusing on seafood. While currently doing takeout only, by summer you should be able to dine in the building (reminiscent of an old school Maryland crab house), or on the sun-drenched benches outside. Magic.
In 2015 Don and Erin Wilson, parents to three young boys, purchased the beloved Gruto’s Soft Serve in Purcellville from long-time owners the Pologruto family. Three years later, and the Wilson’s opened a second Gruto’s on King Street in Leesburg. Specializing in all manner of soft serve, from cones and cups to shakes, malts, floats and Sundaes, the shop is famous for featuring decadent toppings (jellybeans! marshmallows!) and eye-catching names like the Triple-Decker Belly Wrecker. While the Purcellville location closes in winter, the Leesburg shop is open year-round and has been known to have a line outside even in winter. How popular must the three Wilson boys be at school?