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Frequenters of the Colony Square shopping center may have noticed a Williamsburg staple will soon be in their midst, as a banner over the vacant space that used to house the Polo Club announces the Carrot Tree is taking up residence.
Owners Glenn and Debi Helseth, who plan to open the new location in early March, have been contemplating a move for the past several years. They considered moving into the space the Polo Club used to occupy when the restaurant first closed down in 2012.
Though the timing was not quite right then, the Helseths continued to keep their eyes on the space over the next few years.
It was not until early in 2015 the owners decided to kick their search for a new home for the Carrot Tree into high gear, as they were increasingly being confronted with logistical issues arising from the growing popularity of their restaurant and the limitations of their current space.
“We’ve done a lot with this building and it’s been great, but the building was never designed to do all that we’ve asked it to do,” Glenn Helseth said.
The Carrot Tree has been a popular Williamsburg restaurant since it first opened in 1995, but in recent years it has really taken off, Helseth said. The owners have opened several new Carrot Tree locations in the past 15 years, beginning with the debut of a Yorktown location in 2003.
Though the Helseths vacated the site of the original Yorktown Carrot Tree – a National Park Service-owned building called the Cole Digges House on Main Street – due to difficulties negotiating a new contract in 2013, they reopened in a new space nearby at Riverwalk Landing a year later. They also opened up a snack bar in the nearby Watermen’s Museum during the interim.
In keeping with its past successes near historical sites and tourist destinations, in 2011 Carrot Tree Kitchens opened a third restaurant on Jamestown Island called the Dale House Café.
Though the Carrot Tree locations span the length of the Colonial Parkway, all of the food for the three restaurants is prepared in one kitchen, located at the flagship Jamestown Road property. Though this set-up has the advantage of allowing the cooks to ensure consistency and quality throughout the Carrot Tree brand, logistically it was becoming increasingly difficult to meet the demands of three locations in one small kitchen, Glenn said.
Though the Helseths and their staff may have been able to find a way to produce food for three restaurants out of that one small kitchen had all else remained consistent, a sudden boom in their catering business over the course of the last year reinforced the need for a significantly larger kitchen area.
“Our catering operations have taken off more than we could have imagined, and we need much more kitchen space for catering now,” Glenn said.
Other logistical considerations like a shortage of parking at the current location solidified the Helseth’s decision to move, and after looking at numerous properties around town they came full circle to the open space in Colony Square.
In addition to the obvious benefit of housing two full kitchens – one will be devoted to making food for the restaurants and the other for assembling catering orders – the new space will double the Carrot Tree’s seating capacity and make it possible for the Helseths and their staff to significantly increase their offerings.
A private dining room for large parties, full bar that will offer beer and wine as well as a line of signature dessert cocktails like a “carrot cake-tini” and an outdoor patio space where the restaurant can host live music are some of the amenities the new space has to offer.
The Carrot Tree will also begin serving dinner – a first for the Williamsburg location. Though Glenn Helseth expects they will limit dinner service to Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays when the restaurant first opens, he plans to eventually serve dinner six days a week, every day except Sunday when the restaurant will only serve brunch.
As for when the new location will open its doors, the Helseths are eyeing a tentative opening date of March 1, pending the timely completion of the renovations that need to occur to bring the space up to code and get it ready for business.
The owners of the shopping center are currently stripping the space down to bare walls, Helseth said, after the completion of which he and his team will have the chance to start transforming the space into their own.
“In addition to carrying the food down to the Polo Club space we hope to carry some of the charm as well,” he said.
In the meantime, fans of the Carrot Tree still have a few weeks to say goodbye to the old location, which is expected to remain open through Valentine’s Day.
Depending on the progress at the new location, he hopes the special Valentine’s Day dinner the restaurant is offering may double as a farewell dinner of sorts, and then it will be just a few short weeks before the Carrot Tree launches into its new chapter.