Historic Jamestowne is known for its various archaeological sites and projects, and now there is a new food site located in the historic Dale House open to all who come to explore Jamestown Island.
Magnolia is the latest food establishment to call the Dale House Café home.
Melissa Lavin, owner of Magnolia, said she was approached by James Horn, president and chief officer of Jamestown Rediscovery Foundation, who asked if she was interested in running her own business out of the building.
“Since this is a historic building, I can’t have a hood system, so I can’t do any deep frying. So my pitch to Jamestown Rediscovery was to try and keep [the menu] local. I have several friends who have small businesses, and I wanted to include them,” she said.
Magnolia’s menu consists of salads, sandwich melts, and nachos. Ainslie and Colin O’Rourke, owners of the Virginia Bread Company, provide all the bread. They made her artisan white bread with jalapenos and cheddar in it. Lavin said this item became a big hit with customers.
Desserts are provided by MOMO’s Cafe in Newport News. Lavin has also been cooking up steamed shrimp, an item locals have also quickly grown to enjoy.
The Dale House Café has worn many hats throughout the years.
When it was built in the early 20th century, it was known as the Relic House, displaying various artifacts dug up by the Association for the Preservation of Virginia Antiquities. Then it was an area for pottery demonstration, and then a museum store.
It was even the headquarters for the Jamestown Rediscovery Project in 1994.
The association still owns the building, Lavin said, but now the Dale House Café is home to her restaurant.
She added she enjoys being a mere 20 feet from the James River.
“There really is no other place like it on the James. The park service and Jamestowne Rediscovery are like a second family,” she said.
She said she met her husband, Michael, who is the director of collections and conservation for Jamestown Rediscovery, there on the island. They both got married there as well.
Lavin said she attributes her success to help from friends and other business owners. She said Dennis White, owner of Aberdeen Barn steakhouse on Richmond Road, provided business advice and even lent a meat slicer to use. Head chef of Aberdeen Barn, J.C. Morton, is also a close friend of Levin’s and provided a helping hand.
Being a new business during the pandemic also has not been a walk in the park, but Lavin said she and Jamestown Rediscovery made accommodations to ensure the café followed safety guidelines. They constructed a window facing the river where people can order food, and there is a separate table where people can pick up their order. The café also has ample outdoor seating with some indoor seating for when the weather is rainy or cold.
Lavin said once the pandemic is through, she hopes to start catering for events and even host some of her own. She loves the local breweries and food trucks, adding they provided inspiration for her business.
“I love things that are accessible and easy to walk around with and can be paired with beer or wine,” she said.
Lavin is also in the process of getting an ABC license, and hopes to help attract younger audiences to the island.
Magnolia at Dale House Café is open 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. during summer hours and 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. during winter hours. You can check out the menu by visiting their Facebook page.
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