Tuesday, September 26, 2023

Why a restaurateur thinks his newest concept will work at an apparently doomed Beach location

Virginia Beach restaurant owner Baxter Simmons stands next to artwork that will adorn the walls of Americana Roadside Grill.
Restaurant owner Baxter Simmons stands next to artwork that will adorn the walls of Americana Roadside Grill. (Justin Belichis/Southside Daily)

VIRGINIA BEACH — When a business owner realized his Mexican eatery wasn’t turning as many tables as he’d like, he came up with a new concept.

Last weekend, restaurant co-owner Baxter Simmons closed Calliente Cantina, a brick and mortar at 918 Laskin Rd. known for its sugar skull artwork facing the road.

He opened the Mexican restaurant with his fraternity brothers, Ryan Houfek and John Peterson, last September — only to close it less than a year later.

At this point, three restaurants have shut down at the location near the Oceanfront since 2009, including burger joint The Purple Cow, Planet Pizza and Calliente Cantina as of June 4.

So, is this site cursed?

Simmons said it’s all a part of the business when customers just don’t bite.

“This spot has changed themes and restaurants over the years, and there’s no reason something can’t get in here and stick around for awhile,” Simmons said. “Sometimes you have to go through four or five different operations until you find the right fit for the right location.”

Simmons said opening Norfolk sandwich shop The 3Way Cafe is proof of his sentiment.

“It was half a dozen things before we put it in there and it’s been there six years now,” Simmons said.

Now, he and his business partners are making room for something fresh — Americana Roadside Grill, with a menu focusing on burgers, barbecue, comfort food, brunch, alcoholic milkshakes and more.

“You kind of have to say ‘maybe this concept wasn’t the best fit, but maybe this Americana thing will work,’ and you give it a try and that’s all we can do — hope people like the food and come on a regular basis,” Simmons said.

Americana will be the fourth restaurant to open in this space in the last eight years.

According to a city real estate assessment, the property value has received a steady value growth, increasing by about $98,000 since 2013. On the flip side, the structure worth has decreased in recent years, falling about $48,000 since 2013.

“The reality is this location has good traffic visibility, it’s close to the Oceanfront for tourists, but we’re also surrounded by a lot of neighborhoods here,” Simmons said. “If we can appeal to those neighborhoods and they come out and support it, we can stick around and make a go of it.”

David Edelin, who owns Eurasia Cafe across the street, said he’s watched the building change themes over the ten years his business has operated.

“Honestly, I feel like the access road is a big issue because it’s hard to get in there,” Edelin said. “You have to go up and make a U-turn to come in, you can’t just turn in.”

Americana Roadside Grill's brick and mortar at 918 Laskin Road in Virginia Beach
Americana Roadside Grill’s brick and mortar at 918 Laskin Rd. (Justin Belichis/Southside Daily)

Though Edelin said he’s always had good experiences at Calliente Cantina, he believes it doesn’t exactly look like a restaurant from the outside.

Mike Sconiers, franchise owner of Cal’z Pizza a few blocks away, said he’s indifferent about the access roads that guide drivers to his business.

“Most of our business is delivery,” Sconiers said. “I don’t know what the deal over there is. It’s a bad luck spot I feel.”

Simmons says he started putting his Americana concept together about a month ago.

“I really like it, because I think we have aggressive price points. People can come in and enjoy and not spend a lot on dinner,” Simmons said.

“I think there’s going to be enough variety on the menu that you can appeal to the guy getting off work who just wants some wings and chicken tenders to someone looking for a salad, some pimento cheese sliders or in-house sloppy joes.”

Simmons said local muralist Todd Alan Lindberg, who created the mural for Calliente Cantina, will paint something new for Americana Roadside Grill.

“We want it to be just something that’s traditional American, a little bit on the patriotic side,” Simmons said.

In an effort to show appreciation and connect with the community, Simmons said his new restaurant will always offer 50 percent discounts to military members, veterans and first responders.

“It’s a nice incentive,” Simmons said. “It helps fill up the seats, the servers stay busy and it helps create that vibe that you want. People like to go where other people are.”

Americana Roadside Grill plans to open for business Tuesday.

Follow Justin on Twitter @Justinbmmj or send a story idea to Justin@wydaily.com

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