Dan Van Mieghem thought he was going to love retirement. He and his wife, Sherese, left traffic-clogged Los Angeles eight years ago, choosing the peace and quiet of the Virginia countryside and a life of golf, golf and more golf.
Except for one problem. "I was bored out of my mind," Van Mieghem, 55, admits.
So four years ago, the couple opened Terra Cotta Kitchen at the southern edge of Winchester, Va. Van Mieghem loves to cook and knows fine wines, so he and his wife filled the store with top-quality cookware, imported stoneware and linens and a variety of specialty foods and wines.
The store immediately did well, thanks to the boom in new housing around Winchester and customers looking for big-city wares for their kitchens. As the business grew, the Van Mieghems began adding things: a demo kitchen for cooking classes every Monday night; hand-painted Polish pottery; a gift basket business; sturdy Portuguese Casafina stoneware; fresh bread three times a week from Stone Hearth Bakery in Frederick, Md., and, just recently, a small cafe.
The spacious store is in an attractive strip of retail shops that includes a comfortable coffeehouse called the Daily Grind. With the kitchenware shop's brick-colored tile floors and wooden beamed ceilings with slowly turning fans, it's hard to imagine that it originally was a car dealership. "When we wanted to expand, we discovered that we could knock through one of the walls into what used to be a service bay," Van Mieghem says. "It had a concrete floor and these great high ceilings."
The renovated service bay was perfect not only for more food and wine space, but also for an open kitchen and the cafe, which seats about 15. Chef Kelly Haines, a graduate of Baltimore International Culinary College, prepares a daily lunch menu that recently featured a terrific chicken posole soup, a Cal-Ital-inspired chopped salad with salami and radicchio and a warm, gooey quesadilla with artichoke hearts, goat cheese and pine nuts.
The food is excellent, although Haines is slowed somewhat by customers who want to chat as she cooks. She could use a helping hand with service -- perhaps a local retiree who's discovered, as Van Mieghem did, that "retirement can drive you bonkers."
-- Candy Sagon
Terra Cotta Kitchen, 3031 Valley Ave., Winchester, Va.; call 540-723-8800.