The Charlottesville 29

If there were just 29 restaurants in Charlottesville, what would be the ideal 29?

Tag: Duner’s

Torch Passed: Duner’s Sold to Wilson Richey and Jonathan Corey

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.

Introducing Dumplin’: Chef Laura Fonner Has Left Duner’s to Launch a Food Truck and Catering Business


It’s been quite a stretch for chef Laura Fonner. Last year, she won $20K in on the Food Network’s Guy’s Grocery Games. Next, in May, she won Best Chef in The Daily Progress’s Readers’ Choice awards. Then, just yesterday came news that she had been invited back to appear on a tournament of champions on Guy’s Grocery Games. And now, the longtime Duner’s chef has left the restaurant she helped build for a new chapter in her cooking career. Opening soon will be Dumplin’, a food truck launched by Fonner together with Champion Hospitality Group.

The truck’s specialty, of course, will be the same famous dumplings that helped her take the top prize on Guy’s Grocery Games and which one top Charlottesville chef once named the best thing he ate all year. But, she also plans riffs on other favorite dishes from over the years.

A huge supporter of the Charlottesville community, Fonner has been a long-time contributor to the nonprofit PACEM, which provides winter shelter to the Charlottesville-area homeless population, as well as founding a program that brings together chefs, farmers, and restaurants to help feed the homeless. Now, freed from the white-table-cloth restaurant where she cooked for more than a decade, Fonner looks forward to taking her food to a wider audience. “This idea is something I have spent years crafting and it makes my soul happy,” said Fonner. “A food truck allows me to bring my dumplings to the community in a way that is affordable and accessible, so everyone can come share my love of food.”

In addition to running the food truck, Fonner will be available for catering and private dinners. Stay tuned for details on how to book her.

Five Finds on Friday: Natasha Lawler


Today’s Five Finds on Friday come from Natasha Lawler, co-founder of Feed The Frontline, a fund that is buying restaurant gift cards for brave workers on the frontline. At a time when our restaurants are in peril, it’s a win-win that has already injected $40,000 of needed cash flow into the restaurant industry. Help save our restaurants while thanking the frontline. Donate here. Lawler’s picks:

1) Deep-Fried Flounder at Duner’s. “Not only is this the most epic whole fish presentation, but it is so tender and delicious. They layer in all kinds of fresh herbs and aromatics. And I love to order things that I wouldn’t make at home: hello massive deep fryer and a vat of hot oil.”

2) Shrimp Tacos at Plaza Azteca. “These tacos have a yummy secret sauce. And I love how nice the staff is to my kids. Don’t miss the tableside guacamole, whenever it is that we starting dining in again.”

3) Almond Croissant at MarieBette. “My sweet husband gets me one every Saturday morning, and they mark the weekend. The contrast of the gooiness of the almond paste with the crispness of the croissant. Jason and Patrick have the best pastries this side of the Atlantic.”

4) Kimchi Pancake at Doma. “So much umami. So much acid. So much heat. These satisfy a deep primal need in my soul.”

5) Sugar Cookie Mixed Box from BreadWorks. “Made by local members of our community with disabilities, these cookies are so good. Love the variety and how the middles are soft and chewy. Someone gave me a box when I had a baby, and they kept me going. My kids also adore them.”

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