The Leesburg Restaurant, a historic diner on King Street, has been at the heart of the community since it opened in 1865.
In a corner booth by a window, names of teens and their sweethearts have been etched into the dark wood for decades. At a table in the back, a small plaque marks where downtown jeweler Stanley Caulkins, 87, sits when he comes in for lunch nearly every day. Restaurant manager Robin Peacemaker and her teenage daughter, Alexis, write receipts by hand. There isn’t a computer in sight.
Peacemaker has worked at the restaurant for 17 years and has been the manager for six. She sees the same faces every week and knows their favorite orders. But the familiar routine is about to change: When the current lease expires July 31, Peacemaker will no longer run the restaurant.
Her former brother-in-law, who bought the restaurant in 2007 along with her ex-husband, plans to sell it, she said.
Peacemaker said she has thought for a long time about starting a new chapter in her life. Her daughter will be going to college in a couple of years, so Peacemaker has considered what it might be like to not be on her feet all day.
“I’m tired,” Peacemaker said. “But I love this place. I can’t even tell you how much I’m going to miss the people here.”
Those people have become an extended family, she said. They watched her daughter grow up. Regular customers often tell her when they go on vacation, so that Peacemaker won’t worry if she doesn’t see them for a while.
“But I just really need to do something different,” she said.
Peacemaker taught at Loudoun Country Day School before she began managing the restaurant full time in 2007. She misses working with children, she said, and might go back to school to get her teaching certification.
On a weekday morning, just before the lunchtime rush, Peacemaker considered her future while sitting at the storied corner booth, surrounded by the carved names of people who ate here long before she became a part of the diner’s history. She called to one of the regulars sitting at the bar and asked how long he’s been coming here.
“About 14 years,” Rob Edwards, a county employee, said, smiling. “Everyone knows where I am at this time of day.”
“And the only reason you don’t come here is — why?” Peacemaker asked.
“Only if I have a meeting,” he said.
Over the years, Peacemaker has learned the folklore of the place, much of it relayed by longtime regulars. Singer and songwriter Wilson Pickett once ate here. A man on the FBI’s most-wanted list was arrested here, according to a loyal customer who told her he witnessed it. As the story goes, the wanted man was allowed to finish his breakfast before being cuffed and taken away by a Loudoun County sheriff’s deputy.
Inside the restaurant are reminders of other Leesburg institutions, downtown landmarks that remain even as the rapidly growing community around them evolves. The clock on the wall was made by Caulkins Jewelers, which has been a King Street fixture since 1956. There are pamphlets for the 300-seat Tally Ho Theater, built in 1931 as a movie house and performance space, which it remains today.
In a town with a deep sense of history and tradition, change inevitably prompts growing pains. Customers at the Leesburg Restaurant can’t imagine the place not being there, Peacemaker said.
She hopes a new owner will learn the stories and keep the restaurant going as it is. It has changed hands too many times to count but has always survived, she said. With luck, this will be just another bump in the road.
“There’s a lot of folks that are interested in buying the restaurant,” Peacemaker said. “I’m hopeful it will stay the Leesburg Restaurant. If it’s anything else, it would be such a loss for the town.”
Ann Robinson, sitting at the end of the counter, echoed that hope as she finished her sandwich. A Leesburg resident for more than 20 years, Robinson said she and two co-authors met here at the diner every Friday for a couple of years while working on a book.
“We don’t want this place to go,” she said. “It has a special place in our hearts.”