Mandi Smack and the former Jake’s Bar and Grill building in Waynesboro have one thing in common — a new lease on life.
Area locals might recognize Smack from one of the three breweries she owns and founded: Blue Mountain Brewery in Afton, Blue Mountain Barrel House in Arrington and South Street Brewery in Charlottesville.
After a divorce and resigning from her post at the three breweries, Smack is channeling all her energy into a new concept — The River Burger Bar.
“The River comes from a pastime of mine. I love going out to the river,” Smack said. “You have let’s go to the office, let’s go to the office, well, this is, ‘Let’s go to The River.’”
The 44-year-old purchased the restaurant space on North Wayne Avenue on Jan. 1, less than two months after Jake’s shuttered its doors. Before Jake’s, the space used to host The Schooner restaurant and bar.
Smack, a Nelson County resident, knew opening a burger bar in Waynesboro was exactly what she wanted to do.
“I’ve always loved Waynesboro. I had never been to Jake’s before, and I saw on Facebook that it was closing and said [to Jake’s owner Rhonda Winfield] I’d like to meet,” she said. “I knew from the day I walked in that I was going to offer her money right there for the place. I knew that I wanted to do something here, and there’s so much potential for this city.”
While the layout of the restaurant and bar will remain basically the same, that’s about all that the former Jake’s location and The River will share in common. The River, with a maximum capacity of 50, also is a stark comparison to the business owners’ Blue Mountain Brewery which seats 650.
“When I took over Jake’s, I knew I wasn’t going to keep it Jake’s, even though I wanted to do a burger bar,” Smack said. “I always knew that I wanted to do something small and concentrate on a smaller menu where we do everything really well and have amazing customer service.”
The River’s menu will be just that — centered on a classic burger, but offering specialty items with the Wisconsin-natives flare. Smack herself is a vegetarian and plans to include both vegetarian and vegan menu options.
Smack also plans to carry local beers, although she cannot carry beer from any of the breweries she owns because of ABC restrictions.
In addition to a revamped menu and local brews, the new space will have a modern industrial look. The walls have been stripped to the original brick, and the floors have been stripped down to the subflooring level for necessary repairs. While the space is currently gutted through the demoing phase, The River will feature all new furniture upon opening.
One of Smack’s goals are the restaurant bathrooms. Jake’s and Schooner’s guests may remember the small restrooms with a community sink in the dining room. Smack hopes to rid the community sink and put individual sinks in each respective bathroom.
Smack also is hoping for a facade grant, applied for through the city’s Economic Development office, in order to paint the building and get new windows, signage and an awning.
The River is still in its early stages, but Smack hopes to begin hiring in mid-March for an April opening — in time for the city’s annual RiverFest on April 25.
Hours for the new burger bar are tentatively Sundays from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. featuring brunch and a build-your-own Bloody Mary bar, Mondays to Thursdays from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. and Fridays and Saturdays from 11 a.m. to midnight. Live music is a possibility on Thursdays and Fridays.
Smack is hopeful that city residents and beyond will give The River a try when it opens this spring.
“The River is going to be different [than Jake’s], but you’re still going to have a quality product, something that you can’t stop thinking about that you want to come back for, and customer service,” Smack said. “I’m really excited to be open, and I hope everyone will give us a shot.”