As Duner’s owner Bob Caldwell approached retirement, regulars held their breath. What would become of their beloved institution without the man who had run it for decades?
Worry no more. Just as Brian Fox did with Bodo’s, Dave Simpson did with C&O, and John Tice did with John’s, Caldwell made a point of finding a buyer who could sustain the identity of an icon that means so much to its community. That buyer? Restaurateur Wilson Richey, and business partner Jonathan Corey.
“Like so many long time restaurants, we’ve become part of daily life in this area of the county,” said Caldwell of his restaurant, a fixture in The Charlottesville 29. “I’ve been fortunate to have a great group of regular customers and a very loyal and longtime staff. It’s a great combination, and increasingly rare in this world. One of the reasons I sold to Will and Jonathan was that they want to continue that.”
Indeed, for Duner’s fate, it’s hard to imagine a better steward than Richey, the most prolific Charlottesville restaurateur of our time. In addition to James Beard semifinalist The Alley Light, Richey has founded innovative restaurants like The Whiskey Jar, Brasserie Saison, The Bebedero, South & Central, Café Frank, Milkman’s, and The Pie Chest. And, though he may be best known for his creativity in projects like these, Richey is also no stranger to taking over an existing institution. In fact, the first restaurant he ever owned was Revolutionary Soup, which he purchased in 2005, and helped cement as a Charlottesville staple.
Now co-owner of Duner’s, the seasoned restaurateur has the good sense to leave well enough alone. While over time the restaurant may begin to bear the stamp of Richey and Corey, Duner’s will still be Duner’s. Richey:
Duner’s is a Charlottesville classic. Many of my friends and family are regulars, and it is important to this town and the area. Duner’s is surrounded by love, from the staff as well as from the regular customers. You can’t buy or fake that. When you have that much love for a restaurant that has been open as long as Duner’s has been, you have a very special thing, a part of our culture in this town. My goal in taking over the leadership is to continue its traditions and honor the work and patronage that has gone into its enduring significance.
Caldwell spent 39 years at Duner’s, serving 1.3 million meals. It would be too much to expect another 39 years from Richey and Corey. But, Charlottesville can rest easy that one of its institutions remains in good hands.
For more on this story, check out this week’s food segment on Charlottesville Right Now.