Before a restaurant opportunity lured Angelo Vangelopoulos to Charlottesville in 1995, he had never set foot in the city. Having spent years cooking in other people’s restaurants, the 24-year-old Culinary Institute of America graduate was looking to open a place with his family, and had seen a Washington Post ad about a restaurant for sale in Charlottesville, Virginia: Ivy Inn.
“The first time I walked down that walkway, I knew I was home,” Angelo said. How he knew is anybody’s guess. But, the benefits of Angelo’s prescience are immeasurable.
Sure the accolades are impressive. James Beard semi-finalist. Mount Rushmore Chef. Best restaurant awards. But, they don’t come close to capturing what Angelo Vangelopoulos and his wife Farrell have meant to Charlottesville.
The film It’s A Wonderful Life poses a thought experiment to illuminate the impact of a life: imagine the world without you. In the case of the Vangelopoulos family, the results are incomprehensible. Thousands of lives are better because of them and their restaurant in ways that can never be quantified. In fact, without graphic details of the birds and the bees, it is safe to say that many people exist because of the restaurant. From there, occasions dot the arc of a life: first birthdays, then graduations, marriage proposals, weddings, anniversaries, and beyond.
And yet, even those life experiences and their consequences do not tell the full story, as the Vangelopoulos’s impact extends beyond the walls of their restaurant. Somewhere along the way, Angelo evolved from new kid on the block to become a leader of the Charlottesville restaurant community. Part of the reason so many in the industry look to Angelo is the excellence of his restaurant. For nearly three decades, Angelo and Farrell’s restaurant has been the standard-bearer of hospitality in Charlottesville. No restaurant of The Charlottesville 29 has been under the same ownership for so long. But, Angelo also serves as an example for what he does outside the restaurant. “There came a point at which we realized that people actually paid attention to us,” said Angelo. “We realized that what we do and how we act matters.” And so, Angelo and Farrell have become stewards of the food community. “We have to help build community,” Angelo said in a recent StoryCorps conversation. “To me, food is community.” No one gives more.
Last month marked 26 years of the Vangelopoulos family running Ivy Inn, which prompted Angelo, 50, to reflect on a place he has called home for more than half his life. In his weekly newsletter to guests, he wrote:
We dove in head-first from day one and just started cooking food that we liked to eat. No business plan to speak of, no restaurant blueprint to follow. We simply followed our instincts and tried to give our guests a restaurant experience they would remember and cherish. It wasn’t easy, and it wasn’t always fun, but we are so happy that we made our home here in Charlottesville . . . I am humbled to have survived all these years, and I so greatly appreciate the love and support of the Charlottesville community, without whom we wouldn’t have made it. Thanks for hanging in there with us. It’s an honor and privilege to have you as our guests and to consider you “family.”
While the Vangelopoulos’ are happy to have made Charlottesville their home, Charlottesville is even happier. Our food community is forever blessed that in Angelo’s first visit in 1995, he somehow realized that a place he had never been was actually his home. Ever humble, Angelo takes no credit for the realization. That, he says, belongs to Java and Joe, the two dogs that joined him and Farrell on the two hour drive from D.C. to Charlottesville. As they pulled into the Ivy Inn driveway, Java and Joe jumped out of car and pooped on the restaurant’s front lawn. “Well, they like the place!” Farrell said.
Than you, Java. Thank you, Joe.