Thursday, March 23, 2023

Carrot Tree Staff, Owners Persevere Despite Forced Shutdown

The Carrot Tree in Yorktown has been forced to temporarily close due to its presence in a building owned by the federal government. (Gregory Connolly/WYDaily)
The Carrot Tree in Yorktown has been forced to temporarily close due to its presence in a building owned by the federal government. (Gregory Connolly/WYDaily)

Though the shutdown of the federal government has forced the Yorktown and Jamestowne locations of the Carrot Tree restaurant to close its doors, the owner and employees continue to serve customers however they can.

This weekend owners Glenn and Debi Helseth are providing food for a 90th birthday party, a bridal shower, an all-you-can-eat shrimp event at the Watermen’s Museum, a waterfront concert and An Occasion for the Arts in Colonial Williamsburg. They must do all of this after losing access to their Yorktown and Jamestowne locations when the National Park Service — from whom they rent the buildings — told concessioners in NPS-owned buildings they had to close as part of the shutdown, as well.

The Carrot Tree location on Jamestown Road adjacent to the intersection of Sandy Bay Road remains open. The locations at 1720 Cole Digges House in Yorktown and the Dale House Café in Historic Jamestowne has also been forced to temporarily close.

More information about the federal government shutdown’s effect on the Historic Triangle can be found here.

“Debi will never fail to get up, put carrot cake in the oven and have it ready for the public,” said Glenn Helseth, who received a call from NPS at the crack of dawn Oct. 1 as he drove back to Virginia from North Carolina. He learned from that call he had until noon that day to vacate the building, though he was able to get an extension to Wednesday night.

After six van loads and a few employee car loads of food and equipment, they left the 1720 Cole Digges House in Yorktown and began planning how to follow through with standing group reservations. Despite giving the groups a chance to cancel their reservations, all of them remained with the Carrot Tree.

Helseth refers to October as “Rocktober” because it’s one of the biggest months of the year, along with November and December. During a long round of negotiations with NPS last year, one of the main points was whether the restaurant could remain in place for those three months. After U.S. Rep. Rob Wittman (R-1st District) and Sen. Mark Warner (D) contacted NPS, Helseth received an offer that allowed the restaurant to remain in place through 2013.

As long as the shutdown remains in place, Helseth won’t have access to the 1720 Cole Digges House. The closure affects 14 full-time staff members and five to seven part-time staff members, Helseth said.

“The staff is totally shellshocked,” Helseth said. “Most of us couldn’t conceive that our government would let this happen. Those who weren’t current with the news were totally blindsided. Even those current with the news were ever hopeful [a deal would be reached to prohibit a government shutdown].”

Helseth said some of his neighbors have stepped up to help. Grace Episcopal Church has offered its reception hall, and Courtyard Café has offered to take on some of the displaced staff members until access is restored to the Carrot Tree properties. Helseth also has a mobile catering facility called Toby’s Dog House and Crab Shack.

The Yorktown location of the Carrot Tree is also facing the end of the yearlong extension it received at the end of 2012. A contract prospectus detailing the property to potential concessioners was released by NPS in September. The next concession contract in the 1720 Cole Digges House will run for 10 years.

“Carrot Tree is reviewing the contract,” Helseth said. “We would like to think that there is a favorable outcome available. We certainly hope to be here next year.”

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