Got a hankering for pan-fried oysters? Need boxed lunches with smoked ham sandwiches for the Gold Cup races? What about linens for the home?
Sheila Johnson, co-founder of Black Entertainment Television, has bought two buildings in Middleburg, the Powder Horn and the Finicky Filly, and plans to use them to open two more businesses in the next two years -- a gourmet food market and a linen store.
Market Salamander and Salamander Touch, both named after her 168-acre Salamander Farm outside town, are the latest projects announced by Johnson, who unveiled plans in December for a 40-room rural resort, called -- what else? -- Salamander Inn. Lore has it that Salamander was the military code name of a previous owner.
"I went out to Napa Valley recently in California and saw the neatest market and wanted to do something like that, with smoked meats and cheeses, something a bit more rustic than Dean & Deluca," Johnson said of her gourmet food store, which will feature mostly Virginia cheeses, wines and meats prepared by chefs from Equinox, an upscale restaurant in Washington.
These latest ventures offer even more evidence that Johnson, 54, who moved to the farm nearly three years ago after BET was sold to Viacom Inc. for $3 billion, identifies herself with Middleburg as she did with her former cable network.
In the relatively short time she has lived in the town of second-, third- and fourth-generation Virginians, Johnson has become an important contributor to local causes, such as the Piedmont Environmental Council and Loudoun Hospital Center. She has imprinted her name on the town, literally, by donating nearly $3 million to build the Sheila C. Johnson Performing Arts Center at the Hill School, a private academy for kindergarten through eighth grade.
Her biggest score was her $7 million purchase last year of the 341-acre tract once owned by diplomat Pamela Harriman. Many in Middleburg were concerned that the land, where her rural resort will be built, would be bought by a subdivision developer.
On the cultural front, Johnson has sold some photographs she shot on trips to Europe and Africa for $2,000 apiece at The Byrne Gallery on Washington Street. She served last year as president of the Washington International Horse Show at MCI Center, where she sang the national anthem.
Because she always orders the same turkey and ham sandwich at least twice a week at the Upper Crust bakery, the owner last year named the item after her. "The Salamander" comes with turkey, ham, melted Swiss, lettuce and tomato. Johnson orders it on multigrain bread, hold the tomato. Price: $4.95.
She plans to open her new businesses one at a time, Salamander Market in November, the inn in summer or fall 2004 and Salamander Touch by early 2005, project manager Jeff Zell said.
Johnson paid about $1 million each for the two buildings that will house the new business, according to public records. Zell said the market will open at 200 W. Washington St., where the Powder Horn, which sold Civil War muskets and swords for $500 to $3,000, has closed. Powder Horn owner Robert Daly said that he is retiring and that the store will not relocate.
The linen shop is planned for 100 W. Washington St., where the Finicky Filly, a women's clothing store, has operated for 17 years. Having sold the building, store owner Judy Casey said she will now rent from Johnson, who said she plans to use the upstairs initially to store linens for the inn. Casey said she was unaware of Johnson's plans to take over the entire building in two years.
Linda Horn, owner of the Piedmont Gourmet, a specialty gourmet store in town, said she isn't concerned about the new competition.
"Anytime it's hard to start a small business," Horn said. "But when you have deep pockets, it gets a lot easier. Good luck to her, good luck to me. That's all I can say."