By Sarah Vogelsong, The Progress-Index
HOPEWELL — After months of anticipation, the Boathouse at City Point will open to the public Saturday night, with all hands on deck.
“The Hopewell community created this restaurant with our partnership,” said Paige Healy of the HOUSEpitality Family Restaurant Group, the company that owns and operates the four regional Boathouse restaurants.
First floated two years ago, the idea of opening the Boathouse at City Point didn’t gather significant steam until last summer, when the city of Hopewell brokered a multipart deal with its Economic Development Authority, owner of the former Navigator’s Den restaurant Haralambos Papanicolaou and Boathouse originator Kevin Healy.
The terms of the three-layered deal were complicated, designed to net Hopewell a Boathouse restaurant that could act as a regional draw to the city. First Papanicolaou, who owns the site where the Boathouse sits, leased the property to the city; the city then leased it to the EDA, and the EDA leased it to Kevin Healy. The renovations of the restaurant were financed using a $3.75 million loan obtained by the EDA, with collateral supplied by the city in the form of 13 publicly owned properties, including Hopewell’s two fire stations. If all goes as planned, rent payments will flow back up the chain regularly, and the city will reap additional benefits from increased meals tax revenues, more employment opportunities and the restaurant’s potential to attract other business.
Despite the complexity of its foundation, the Boathouse at City Point presented a serene appearance June 14 when Paige Healy showed local media around the site.
“All of the decor here is a reflection of the shore, a nod to the shore,” she said. “But we’re not going to do anything on the nose.”
What that means is that the dining area, designed by Richmond’s Walter Parks Architects, is devoid of the nautical paraphernalia that often litters seafood-based restaurants, with the Boathouse instead relying on blues and grays, copper and marble, dozens of hanging lamps and the “million-dollar view” of the Appomattox that stretches as far as the eye can see. Electric torches on the patio provide a nod to the torches that once lined the site when it was home to the Navigator’s Den.
Inside, a 360-degree bar that bridges indoors and outdoors greets customers immediately upon their entrance. Windows line the northern, eastern and southern walls of the building from floor to ceiling, with the “nano-walls” around the bar capable of opening out during mild weather. The bar, while fully stocked, features a number of regionally produced beverages — particularly the Boathouse Oyster Ale, a collaboration with Petersburg’s Trapezium Brewery that uses the restaurant’s specially grown Piankatank oysters
“We really focus on ingredients, on things that are fresh, local and in season,” said Paige Healy. Besides drawing produce from local farms, the restaurant has also created an “edible garden” along the base of its patio walls from which the chef can pluck herbs or whatever else is being grown to be immediately incorporated into dishes.
Much of that produce will be used in the Boathouse’s chef’s table, which will be the first in the region and in Virginia has most popularly been seen at the nationally renowned Inn at Little Washington. Guests at the chef’s table will be seated in the kitchen and personally served by the restaurant chef, who will have a chance to chat with diners and share stories of the recipes and ingredients being used.
“You’re connected to our kitchen. You’re a part of it,” said Paige Healy, who described the innovation as a way to “get rid of the barrier between chef and customer.”
The 223-capacity restaurant also includes an area that can be closed off from the rest of the dining room and rented for meetings, celebrations or weddings, with an adjoining outdoor tent available for larger gatherings.
“Residents of Hopewell have been waiting for something like this to come along for a long time and, after years in the making, it’s wonderful to see this project completed,” said Assistant City Manager Charlie Dane in a press release.
The Boathouse will open to the public at 5 p.m. June 17 and will be open beginning at 3 p.m. on June 18 and at 5 p.m. June 19 and 20. Normal business hours will begin June 21 at 11:30 a.m.