Turning 50 is no small feat for a business in any industry, let alone for a restaurant trying to survive during the covid-19 pandemic. In Williamsburg, not one but two local restaurants are celebrating their gold anniversaries this year in spite of the challenge of the last 16 months.
The Cheese Shop on Duke of Gloucester Street in Merchants Square is not only celebrating 50 years in business, but its owners also managed to open a new restaurant during the height of the pandemic, Downstairs at Fat Canary (see related story).
“It’s pretty remarkable,” said Mary Ellen Power Rogers, who co-owns The Cheese Shop with her siblings, Thomas Power Jr. and Cathy Power Pattisall. “2020 was truly a challenging year, so we are delighted. We weren’t sure we were even going to make it to our 50th anniversary. To still be open now is a celebration in itself.”
The Cheese Shop’s original owners, Tom and Mary Ellen Power (the current owners’ parents), first opened the business in Newport News in October 1971. The shop relocated to Prince George Street in Williamsburg a few years later, where it operated before moving to its current location in Merchants Square in 2003. That year, the Power family also opened their popular fine dining establishment, Fat Canary.
The Cheese Shop is known for its cheeses, wine, bread, and sandwiches, as well as Mary Ellen Power’s special house dressing, which she created using a recipe from her grandmother.
Mary Ellen Power Rogers credits their high-quality food and The Cheese Shop’s loyal customers and dedicated employees for the restaurant’s success.
“We have customers that come in sometimes five times a week, and we know them by name,” Power Rogers said. “We have a multigenerational staff of employees, some who have been with us for decades. We are so lucky.”
Pierce’s Pitt Bar-B-Que on Rochambeau Drive is also turning 50 this year. The barbeque joint is famous across the nation for its pulled pork sandwiches and barbeque sauce.
Doc and Verdie Pierce started Pierce’s Pitt Bar-B-Que, which also opened in October 1971. Their son, Jay Pierce, was just 15 years old when he began helping his parents out at the restaurant. Jay Pierce took over the business three years later, in 1974, and continues to run it today.
Like The Power Family, Jay Pierce also said it is his menu and the customer service that have kept people coming through his doors for 50 years.
“Quality is always the first thing, and it has been that way since day one,” he said. “Customer service is also important. Treating people with kindness and respect. That philosophy has also served us well.”