In the late 1890s, decades before women could vote or be part of the “all men are created equal” equation, a widowed woman named Elizabeth Cooper operated a coffee shop and tea room around the corner from Main and Read streets in Yorktown, Virginia. The historic town on the banks of the River York was where Lord Cornwallis and the British Army surrendered, which ended the American Revolution.
More than a century later, in 2014, Celeste Gucanac often walked past the colonial-revival red-brick building once occupied by Elizabeth Cooper and daydreamed. The historic house, which was taken over by the National Park Service and was part of the Colonial National Historic Park, had been empty for a decade. Gucanac, who lives nearby, had a vision for the building.
“I saw this house and I thought, this is so beloved. Why is it empty? remembers Gucanac who owns the wholesale coffee roastery Mobjack Coffee Roasters with her husband. Since 2007, they have been dedicated to selling unique blends of fair trade organic coffee.Previously, she was a trained ballet dancer with the New York City Ballet and danced with several companies, including the Suzanne Farrell Ballet at the Kennedy Center.
While some people might marvel at the building and continue walking along the street lined with colonial houses that feels transported from a novel, Gucanac saw possibilities. “We wanted to use our business to do something that we were passionate about, that was beyond coffee,” Gucanac shares. “And we always loved the history of the area and wanted a new location for the business.” She also noticed the sign on the building. “He said the building was once a cafe and tea room in the 1800s operated by a woman.”
Then the hardest part really began. Gucanac called the National Park Service to ask if she could rent the abandoned building. “Nope.” was the answer. “Can I buy the building?” she asked. Another “no”. But Gucanac remained unfazed. “I called every week for almost two years,” she shares. “And here we are.”
As Gucanac explains, each national park has its own rules about what it is allowed to do based on historical compliance or the mission of the park. “This one didn’t yet have a commercial rental program in place for this location, so it took them a while to figure out if they want that here?” says Gucanac. They also had to prepare the building for public proposals. After issuing a request for proposals, Gucanac competed nationally against other companies and ultimately won the opportunity to lease the building.
Opened in 2018, not only is the coffee roasted, packaged and shipped across the United States on-site, but Mobjack Coffee Rosters and Petite Café offers a menu that includes paninis, salads and assorted treats also made from scratch. , like the decadent oatmeal cream. tart.
With plenty of outdoor seating, many groups use Mobjack Coffee Roasters and Petite Cafe as a hangout and romance spot before heading out on their bikes or strolling down to the water to walk along the river or rent a bike or kayak from Patriot Tours and Provision or sail on the Tall Ship Alliance schooner with Yorktown Sailing Charters. As the majestic ship passes by the ospreys and dolphins of the Victory Monument, one feels transported to another time.
This historic region, which is part Greater Williamsburg, which includes Yorktown, Jamestown Settlement and Williamsburg is full of hidden gems. While the place, known as Virginia’s Historic Triangle, is famous for all of its history, like Colonial Williamsburg, with its restored and preserved buildings, surrounding battlefields, and Revolutionary War sites, the area is also thriving. with stellar restaurants, locally owned shops and no shortages. of spots to go on the water in a kayak and discover the vast panoramas. Plus, there’s the lure of the nearby coast and mountains.
One of those gems in The Williamsburg Inn adjacent to historic Colonial Williamsburg. With its neoclassical design, arches and whitewashed brickwork, the hotel has a regal feel but is also cozy and comfortable. The only hotel in the United States where Queen Elizabeth II has stayed twice, the luxurious rooms are bathed in warm golden tones with plush furnishings you can sink into. In addition, there is a spa, indoor and outdoor swimming pools and a terrace with stunning views of the area and the golf course. Plus, a stay at the inn directly supports the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation.
A great way to explore the area is by bike. Spoke + Art Provisions Co is the go-to place for cyclists. Located along the interesting Capital Trail, Spoke + Art offers regular, electric and hybrid bikes for rent and they have a great cafe with live music. The trail crosses Colonial Parkway, the national scenic route connecting the three cities. The trail offers some of the best cycling around the Jamestown Island loop with a spectacular lookout over the James River at Black Point alongside the vast expanse, marshes and wildlife galore. As the sun sets, experience the James River from the water on the pontoon, Jamestown Discovery. Senior Captain Corey J. Fenton of Jamestown Discovery enjoys sharing his passion for the area as the boat gently meanders through the James River past lush marshes and historic vessels.
Since the early 1970s, The Cheese Shop has been a Williamsburg staple. Now three generations later, Mary Ann and Thomas Power started their business because of their great passion for cheese and wine which they hoped to share with others. Since then, the Power family has expanded their bustling Duke of Gloucester Street business to include not only their upscale cheese shop, but also a well-stocked wine cellar that can be paired with the cheese and fine dining restaurant, Fat Canary.
“We have over 200 cheeses from around the world, from Switzerland to Spain, including artisan farmhouse cheeses from local dairies where the cheese is made,” says Mary Ellen Power Rogers of Mary Ann and Thomas’ three children. “Our inventory changes every two or three days and it’s sold out within 48 hours.” In fact, each sandwich is made with the hugely popular Original House dressing, created by Mary Ann Power in 1971 and which continues to attract legions of fans.
Fat Canary is on the Open Table list of one of America’s 100 Best Restaurants. Chef Tomas Power, Jr. offers a changing menu with the best seasonal ingredients with dishes like their lobster fettuccini or homemade mozzarella with Virginia ham and walnut pesto. and heirloom tomatoes. Other popular eateries include Amber Ox Kitchen & Brewery, Craft 31, and Culture Café.
Sometimes Celeste Gucanac stops to reflect on the region and what it means to her to be there. “We work in historic buildings dating back to 1726. And George Washington would have walked these streets,” she says. “I also appreciate that there are now people here with a new chapter.”