Beat cancer. Open a restaurant. It’s been quite a year for Bryan Sewell, the chef who next week will launch Wayland’s Crossing Tavern.
It was just over a year ago that Sewell was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s Lymphoma, a cancer that starts in the white blood cells and can spread throughout the body. He was head chef of Public West Pub & Oyster Bar at the time, and despite the shock of the diagnosis and the grueling treatment it required, did not miss a beat. “I honestly don’t know that he missed a single day of work despite chemo and regular doctor visits,” says Public West owner Daniel Kaufman. “Somehow, he kept the restaurant going without any loss of quality or consistency. His work-ethic was absolutely amazing.”
Sewell, now 28, says cooking helped him through. “Working my job allowed my mind to be taken off of what I was battling,” Sewell says, “and was one of the most effective therapies during my cancer treatment.”
All of that hard work paid off. Sewell entered remission in December, and, soon after, the chef who has worked in restaurants since age 16 received a shot at his dream. Kaufman offered him the restaurant. Ready to return attention full-time to his Charlottesville restaurant, Kaufman could think of no better use for the Public West space than for Sewell to start his own place. “In many ways it was already his,” says Kaufman. “No one spent more time there, and he never took his mind off the success and reputation of Public West.”
Bryan Sewell, left, with Kaufman, right, on the day Sewell became owner.
What is Wayland’s Crossing Tavern?
Fast forward a few months, and after much planning and renovations, Wayland’s Crossing Tavern is set to open.
“Everyone is welcome,” says Sewell of his tavern. It’s a pub for families, friends, neighbors, and visitors, he says, offering American and British pub classics, like wings, sandwiches, beef stew, and even a Ploughman’s Lunch – a board of smoked meats and artisan cheeses, with Bavarian bread, Irish butter, and pickled vegetables. There will also be Sewell’s signature Fish and Chips, which he brings with him from Public West, where it had a following among regulars. Beer-battered fresh cod is fried and served with slaw, curry aioli, and twice fried “chips.” Other carry-overs from Public West, by “popular demand,” he says, include fried oysters, mussels, an oyster po’ boy, and, of course, raw oysters.
But, the dish Sewell is most excited about is Chicken Tikka Masala, which some call the British national dish. For Sewell’s version, he marinates and then grills chunks of Shenandoah Valley Organic chicken, and serves them over rice with a homemade curry yogurt sauce. “I think it will be one of our more popular entrees once people try it,” Sewell says.
Like any pub, though, Sewell says, it’s about more than food. Like beer. The initial list of six taps includes Guinness (a permanent line), Beer Hound Brewery’s Olde Yella, South Street’s Barhopper IPA, Hardywood’s Rum Barrel Pumpkin Ale, Victory’s Sour Monkey, and Apocalypse Ale Work’s Barmegeddon. Running the front of the house is co-owner Kim Dillon who, like Sewell, has long dreamed of owning a tavern. Regulars can expect sports nights, game nights, tap takeovers, live music, and more, she says. The first tap takeover, with Apocalypse Ale Works, is already scheduled. Meanwhile, Wayland’s Crossing Tavern’s grand opening is Friday, October 20, at 4pm, with live music by Chris Winter and Music for the Soul.
In the restaurant world, there are no sure-things. But, about Wayland’s Crossing Tavern, Sewell’s former boss is awfully optimistic. “He has built and maintains a great relationship with so much of his clientele and the surrounding community,” says Kaufman. “He is going to absolutely kill it out there.”
For more about Sewell, a Q&A with the chef-owner:
1) What is your culinary background?
My passion for food began when I was a tableside chef at Somerby Golf and Community Club in Byron, MN where I prepared individual dishes to the high expectations of guests. It was at that point I realized that I knew I was destined for a career in the restaurant and hospitality business. While I completed my bachelors degree at the University of Vermont for Natural Resource Management, I ran a tortilla bakery for a Mexican-American fusion restaurant in Burlington, VT. During my time at the bakery, I noticed that there were several tortillas per batch that were not acceptable for wraps to serve customers. I realized that tortillas which were usually thrown away could be turned into a profit by baking them and creating various flavors of chips that were desirable to customers. While the business ran it’s course, I learned that I could be a successful restaurateur and entrepreneur. After I left the tortilla bakery, I worked as a line cook at one of the best restaurants in Vermont, The Farmhouse. This is where I cut my teeth and really learned the ins and outs of preparing food at a full service restaurant. I was able to combine my managerial experience with my cooking abilities when I became the Head Chef at Public West Pub and Oyster Bar. I had to learn many new skills in order to actually run all of the operations associated with being a chef. However, I was able to turn a profit for the first year of the restaurant’s operation, provide a high quality of cuisine for approachable prices, and provide a unique experience for guests. As well, I am carrying over my fish and chips recipe to Wayland’s Crossing Tavern which has been said by some patrons to rival ones from the U.K.
2) While working at Public West, you battled Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. Can you describe that journey?
When I received the original diagnosis in July of 2016, my career as a head chef had just begun, my parents were still in the process of moving to Virginia, and my brother received a job in California. One of the few sources of comfort came from working in the kitchen. I knew that it may affect my ability to work, so I had a difficult discussion with Daniel, the owner of Public West at that time. I told him about my diagnosis, and he went out of his way to make sure that I was supported and would still be able to follow my passion of being a chef. Working my job allowed my mind to be taken off of what I was battling, and was one of the most effective therapies during my cancer treatment. The doctor recommended that I take time off after the chemo; however, I didn’t want to let my staff or the success of the restaurant suffer. As many cancer patients and survivors know, the days following treatment can be physically and mentally draining, but I was determined not to let it stop me from achieving my dreams. Cancer can be a devastating disease, and I couldn’t have done what I did without the amazing support from my staff, family, and friends who would consistently help where it was needed. I realize there are many people around the world in much worse situations than what I experienced, and I was fortunate. I am grateful that I was able to beat the cancer and call myself a survivor.