The James River is central to all that is Richmond; history, recreation, jogging on the canal walk, bird-watching, kayaking, nature hiking and even swimming. Add to that list elegant dining, either open air or behind floor-to-ceiling windows, that offers a panoramic view of the James River and Richmond skyline. Richmond can claim such a restaurant: The Boathouse at Rocketts Landing, 4708 East Old Main St., Richmond, Virginia, that opened in August of 2009. Partake of blue sky, blue water and blue goblets on a balmy day.
The Power Plant now housing the restaurant was built around 1910 and was used to generate steam power for Richmond’s trolley cars. Contemporary glass and steel are now meshed around the baked-brick smoke stack and other industrial remnants of Richmond’s past. The Alliance to Conserve Old Richmond Neighborhoods (“ACORN”) honored the project with its 2009 Golden Hammer award for “best commercial renovation.” Also, the Greater Richmond Association for Commercial Real Estate (“GRACRE”) has listed the Power Plant at Rocketts Landing as a finalist in several categories for their commercial real estate awards to be announced at a Gala on April 21, 2010. The categories are: Renovated or Historic Rehabilitation: Mixed Use; Interior; and Retail or Restaurant awards.
The mastermind behind the restaurant is Kevin Healy. Healy brought entrepreneurial experience from his first restaurant location, The Boathouse at Sunday Park at Brandermill in Chesterfield County. His vision was in tune with the developers, WVS companies, and he added his own insight to the interior space. Healy maintained that the restaurant should be like the precious jewel of the development. His vision was to make the time spent in the restaurant into an experience to be remembered and revered.
The vital missing link the business needed was access to additional capital. No money was flowing from the big lenders despite Healy’s experience, equity injection and his innovative business plan. Lean times and a tender economy were closing the more conventional lending outlets. Healy remarked “the banks seemed paralyzed by fear.” Healy was aware of the U.S. Small Business Administration’s (SBA) guaranteed lending program. The 7(a) program is SBA’s primary small business loan program providing a guaranty to participating lenders who submit small business loan applications that meet SBA’s eligibility and credit requirements.
The business plan for The Boathouse at Rocketts Landing was presented to preferred lender Sonabank, headquartered in McLean, Virginia. The preferred lender program called “PLP” is another step in SBA's process of "streamlining" the procedures necessary to provide financial assistance to the small business community. Under PLP, SBA delegates the final credit decision and some servicing and liquidation authority to carefully selected lenders. Healy needed the missing piece, money for equipment and working capital, to implement his plan. Finally that piece was beginning to take shape. Sonabank came through with a SBA guaranteed loan.
There was even a positive side to the down economy. The enactment of the Recovery Act meant that his business saved $10,000 in fees and that the lender was able to get a 90% guaranty. After having doors shut in his path, Healy said the process was “quick, easy and painless and approximately done within 60 days.” Healy advises that the most challenging part was “to always stay engaged in making things happen. If the lender happened to need a certain document executed, I was not averse to personally driving it there—I needed to stay on task to see that it was done,” he explained.
The James River is only part of the story of The Boathouse at Rocketts Landing. It also is about the perseverance of an entrepreneur with a vision to stay focused on the task of securing and directing the flow of capital. Now the challenge is maintaining the quality and ambience that the Boathouse at Rocketts Landing has created. Measured by the positive reviews and a number of customers, the success of the Boathouse at Rocketts Landing is flowing as smoothly as the river that runs past it.
One of Virginia's finest inns and restaurants, the historic Joshua Wilton House can be found in "Old Town" Harrisonburg, Virginia, in the heart of the
Shenandoah Valley. This Inn features five rooms furnished with restored period antiques and reproductions and a restaurant serving award winning meals that
change with the seasons.
Joshua Wilton, the original owner and builder of the house, was born in England and raised in Canada. He was the President of the First Virginia Bank and a pillar of the community. He was also instrumental in bringing electricity to the Harrisonburg area of the Shenandoah Valley. In 1888 Mr. Wilton completed the construction of the house for his family and it included hand carved mantels and faux-marble slate fireplaces. Today his portrait still hangs in the front foyer. The Wilton family occupied the home for about 40 years and in the 1970’s the house served as the TKE fraternity house until it was sold and converted into apartments. In 1986 restoration work began to bring the House back to its original grandeur while adding a restaurant kitchen, sunroom and brick patio. The Joshua Wilton House Inn and Restaurant opened for business in May of 1988 on the one-hundredth anniversary of the house’s construction. Over the last 20 years it has served as a fine dining restaurant and bed and breakfast; the first of its kind in Harrisonburg.
Ann Marie Coe, Mark Newsome and Sean Pugh first came to the Shenandoah Valley to attend James Madison University. After graduating from JMU Ann Marie began a six year career as a special education teacher while Sean and Mark pursued careers at the Joshua Wilton House. Then, in 2001, Ann Marie & Mark began to explore the possibility of developing a new restaurant in the area and were directed to the local SCORE office for help. There they met with a counselor, who in turn brought them to the JMU SBDC for intensive business planning. The couple had an excellent background in the restaurant business; Mark was an Executive Chef and Ann Marie had worked as innkeeper and host at the Joshua Wilton House.
The Service Corps of Retired Executives (SCORE) and the Small Business Development Centers are both SBA resource partners dedicated to entrepreneur education and training. There are 10 SCORE Chapters and 30 SBDC centers located in Virginia.
Throughout 2002 and 2003, Anne Marie and Mark worked with the SBDC to turn dreams of owning their own restaurant into reality by first developing a business plan. The SBDC connected them with the Economic Development and Downtown Renaissance offices in Harrisonburg as well as several lenders. Several locations in the area were considered and tested for feasibility as their business plan was continuously revised and updated. At the end of 2003 the owner of the Joshua Wilton House decided to sell and they were in an excellent position to take advantage of the opportunity. At this juncture they decided to ask Sean Pugh, General Manager of the Inn, to join them in this venture.
In 2004 they successfully acquired the business and property with the help of a loan from Rockingham National Bank and a SBA 504 Certified Development Company (CDC) Loan for the building and land. The Certified Development Company Loan Program is a long-term financing tool for economic development within a community. The program provides growing businesses with fixed-rate financing for major fixed assets, such as land and buildings with an emphasis on job creation and economic development for the community.
Since the business acquisition the new owners have continued the tradition of old world charm and four star services, with locally grown food that has always been the Joshua Wilton House trademark. Mark stated recently that “it's nice to make these relationships in your local community and it keeps the local economy going as well.” In addition he said, “From an economic standpoint and a community standpoint we have a great area here for local produce. We get locally-raised chickens, eggs, beef and pork; it's a great farming area. I couldn't be in a better place, the quality is the best."
The journey to entrepreneurship for Mr. James T. Jefferson started behind a backhoe, laboring at opening and closing the final earthly resting places of community folks. He was hired mostly by local funeral homes. Honesty and hard work were his guiding ethics 16 years ago when he started on this journey as well as now as President of Southside Grave & Vault/Newsom Monument Company located at 3447 Wilkerson Road, Skipwith, Virginia 23968 (rural Mecklenburg County). Newsom Monument Co is located at 15450 Highway 47, Chase City, Virginia.
“We, my wife Willie Anna and I, started part-time and grew the business, one customer at a time” reflects Mr. Jefferson. Customer care and service are the
fundamental tools for their success and the company sought referrals from each completed job. Before long their customer list stretched to over thirty funeral homes in Southside Va. and North Carolina. In late 1999 he landed a Trigard burial vault franchise in Mecklenburg County Va. Trigard is one of the four major brands of concrete burial vaults. Mr. Jefferson currently installs the vaults he manufacture in ninety eight percent of the graves he opens and close as well as providing vault services to other areas.
An opportunity to purchase Newsom Monument Company surfaced in 2006 and Mr. Jefferson first sought help from the Longwood SBDC South Boston branch and was furthered assisted by Southside Business Technology Center. Longwood SBDC in coordination with federal, state, local and private-sector resources and through a cooperative agreement with SBA provides business counseling assistance. Their business clients in turn, promote economic development in local communities like Chase City and Mecklenburg County. Businesses served include Southside Grave & Vault Co. employing ten individuals. SBDCs meet the counseling and training needs of 650,000 start-ups or existing business clients annually. Based on the client needs, SBDC’s tailor their services to meet the evolving needs of the small business community.
South Boston Branch of Longwood Small Business Development Center first provided one-on-one counseling to Southside Grave & Vault Company in 2003
addressing concerns like reducing expenses such as escalating fuel costs, establishing a variety of suppliers and writing its business plan. This had to be done in a slowing economy while being sensitive to keeping costs down whenever possible. Ways to demonstrate how profitability can be improved were put down on paper. Through the assistance provided in the business plan, Southside Grave and Vault Company became interest in acquiring Newsom Monument Company in a neighboring town of Chase City. This business was purchased in 2007.
Southside Grave & Vault, Inc/Newsom Monument Company is a candidate for 2009 Minority Small Business Champion of the Year. It is a Trigard franchise dealer,
one of the four major brands of burial vaults, serving a 100 mile radius. The businesses currently employ ten.
Through planning initiatives, counseling, implementation, and despite hard times, Mr. Jefferson forecast is blossoming. “We obtain as much business as our current
resources allow.” Southside Grave & Vault Company/Newsom Monument Company continues to build relationships with new customers and other suppliers and the Longwood Small Business Development Company. James and Willie Anna Jefferson have volunteered from time to time to be speakers at “How to Start a Small Business” seminars sharing their first hand experience. Mincing no words, his list is short: “Do your homework. Know your service. Know how to reach the customer. And, very important, know your competition.” This list has paved the journey to success for Southside Grave & Vault Company.