New eateries arriving on the square in Leonardtown are expected to revitalize the local restaurant scene.
On Washington Street, Nook and Monks Restaurant replaced Ye Olde Restaurant in May, and Cafe des Artistes is scheduled to open next month in the old Duke Building. The new restaurants join the established Willows Tavern and Restaurant on Route 5.
Operators of the new restaurants are hoping to tap into the market of people working in Leonardtown and looking for lunch spots within walking distance. With the closing of Roy Rogers last summer and Virnelli's Deli earlier this year, workers from the county Planning and Zoning office, sheriff's office and courthouse were left with Ye Olde Restaurant as the only option to brown-bagging.
Richard and Jennifer Swann stopped for ice cream one day at the Ye Olde Restaurant and fell in love with the place. The Swanns talked with owner Evelyn VanHousen and told her that they saw a lot of potential in the old theater building housing her restaurant. Before long, Nook and Monks Restaurant & Theatre was born.
The New Theater had been a downtown landmark since the early 1950s. Now the building is undergoing another remodeling, as is the menu of Nook and Monks.
Though diners at Nook and Monks will be seeing big changes, they will also encounter many familiar faces, as most of the staff from Ye Olde Restaurant have stayed on. Some old favorites on the menu like bread pudding with lemon sauce, remain, while new creations--Oreo cheesecake, for example--will soon make their debut. The old theater marquee will change one day soon, to read "Nook and Monks Restaurant & Theatre."
The Swanns will offer breakfast, lunch and dinner, but in response to requests for economy lunches, "a brown bag lunch special in the $3 to $4 range will be available," said Jennifer Swann. When the remodeling is complete, they plan to open the 400-seat movie theater as a dinner theater.
Cafe des Artistes, on the corner of Fenwick and Washington streets in the old Duke Building, plans to offer casual and convenient lunches, elegant dinners and Sunday brunches, according to owners Loic and Karleen Jaffres, a Calvert County couple who recently married and gave up their jobs to open the new restaurant.
Loic Jaffres is no stranger to the kitchen. When he was 13 he began a three-year charcuterie (pate, sausage and ham) apprenticeship in Europe followed by a two-year apprenticeship in butchering and 11 years as appetizer and salad chef at Maison Blanche in Washington, always nursing the dream of one day owning his own restaurant.
Once they had made up their minds to open a restaurant, the Jaffres spent some time looking in Calvert, but couldn't find the right spot.
"A classified ad in the newspaper took us into the center of Leonardtown. Strolling down the street," Karleen Jaffres recalled recently, "we finally reached the Duke Building and saw the corner space vacant with a 'For Rent' sign in the window. We knew we had to check it out."
On the way home they began to think about the residential development outside of town and also remembered favorable news reports on growth in St. Mary's County. Later, they learned of the Tudor Hall Project, the huge residential and conference center project along Breton Bay in Leonardtown.
When they finally approached people in Leonardtown about opening their restaurant, the Jaffres found intense interest in the project. They joke between themselves and believe that they are living and fulfilling the dream: "If you build it, they will come."
CAPTION: The 1962 Leonardtown Fireman's Parade passed by the New Theater, right, home today to Nook and Monks Restaurant.
CAPTION: Karleen Jaffres, who will open Cafe Des Artistes with husband Loic in Leonardtown next month, paints the restaurant's ceiling.
CAPTION: The old theater's marquee will soon advertise its new restaurant, Nook and Monks.