As William & Mary wraps up the celebration of its 325th Charter Day, another milestone was reached Tuesday in Williamsburg — the 100th monthly Business Roundtable luncheon, presented by the City’s Economic Development Authority.
The EDA’s mission is to provide support and resources to businesses based in the city. The monthly luncheon began in October 2009, when then-Mayor Jeanne Zeidler addressed 44 members of the business community at Second Street Bistro.
More than eight years later, the luncheons are still going strong on the second Tuesday of every month.
The luncheon facilitates networking between business owners, allows the city to provide information to the business community, and gives a local restaurant the chance to feed dozens of hungry mouths — while also showcasing their menu.
“There’s a need for fellowship and networking among business owners and civic leaders,” said Rick Overy, EDA vice-chair. “There’s a need to be able to sit down and have lunch with your city councilor or other business owners.”
City Economic Development Director Michele DeWitt said there are rarely repeat speakers, as the city wishes to highlight different members of the community and disseminate their knowledge and perspective.
Past speakers have included college professors, national parks representatives, CEOs, police and fire chiefs, Colonial Williamsburg presidents, city managers, airport directors, real estate developers, school superintendents and media members.
This month, the business community gathered at Old City Barbeque and was addressed by William & Mary President Taylor Reveley.
Reveley is one of a select few who have been asked to speak at two luncheons since 2009 — in this case, he spoke a second time because he will be retiring this summer.
“Williamsburg is a place that truly relishes institutions that have some age on them, some tradition to them,” Reveley told the packed house as they finished their barbeque sandwiches. “Thus, it’s invigorating to see that the business roundtable is notching its 100th meeting today.”
Reveley tasked the community with creating new economic opportunities for William & Mary graduates, many of whom must move away to find work or build their own business.
“It would be great if they all could [stay], but as you all know, there simply aren’t enough jobs available here for young, very able, very ambitious kids,” Reveley said. “Williamsburg is such a glorious place to live, this would be a great place for young entrepreneurs to come settle in and try to establish their business. I think it’s a situation that will be handled in due course.”
Overy said increasing business opportunity was the exact goal of those luncheons, adding he was optimistic the economic landscape will improve when like-minded people break bread and discuss their businesses.
“We want to make Williamsburg a great place to do business. That’s our goal,” Overy said. “Some businesses view the locality as an obstacle, rather than a partner. We’re trying to make sure the City Of Williamsburg is a partner to our businesses, not an obstacle.”
Overy added that every month, he asks first-time attendees to stand and be introduced to the community. The price of their meal ticket at their first luncheon — which is around $15 — is also covered by the city.
Business members of the community said luncheons are a great chance to meet and learn from their peers and city staff.
“We’re so busy running our respective shops that it’s hard to carve out time to talk,” said Gretchen Bedell, owner of the Odd Moxie ad agency and co-owner of Work Nimbly. “I’ve had tons of serendipitous conversations about events, new business and new projects thanks to these luncheons.”
DeWitt said the idea for a monthly luncheon was first brought forward nearly a decade ago by EDA member Bill Carr and then-EDA chair Monty Mason, who has since been elected to the Virginia Senate.
“Good things happen when you combine business and food,” Carr said. “I’m surprised the other EDAs haven’t emulated something like this.”
Luncheons have ballooned from 30 or 40 attendees to 70 or more members of the community in recent years. Discussion topics have changed too, as developments like Midtown Row were once no more than a dream for city officials and staff.
Another benefit, Overy said, is that the luncheons show off the culinary offerings of local restaurants, and ensure they have a busy — and profitable — lunchtime pop.
For example, The Cheese Shop in Merchants Square, which has little room for in-house seating, once catered an event hosted on city property, turning a profit that otherwise would have been unavailable to them. Tuesday’s luncheon brought in so many paying customers to Old City Barbeque Tuesday that there was a waitlist.
Old City was the recipient of a $20,000 grant from the EDA before opening last year to help with renovation — and Carr said the city’s investment in and commitment to a local business has now come full circle.
“Isn’t it neat that the city’s EDA certified that grant, and how that grant has turned into this [place],” Carr said. “For us to have a roundtable here, that’s kind of cool. That’s satisfying to me.”