Sunday, April 21, 2024

ICYMI: Owners Reveal Plans for Freestanding Oceans & Ale Restaurant

WILLIAMSBURG — Popular casual eatery Oceans & Ale, which has called Williamsburg Premium Outlets home for more than 13 years, has its eye on expansion, with its owners revealing they purchased a 1.37-acre parcel on the Yankee Candle property last September.

According to owner John Wagner, the new space, a planned 7,000-square-foot freestanding building, will allow the restaurant to operate in a larger space, accommodate more reservations and even host private events.

Over the years, the ownership trio of Wagner, Brian Radford and Chef Mike Wozniak looked for other locations in surrounding communities, but each time walked away from potential plans.

“We just felt like we really wanted to focus on Williamsburg for future expansion. We then decided to shift our focus from leasing a space to finding a piece of land to purchase and build a freestanding Oceans & Ale restaurant,” Wagner said. “Having our doors open here for 13-plus years now, Williamsburg is our home, and we want to continue to be a part of this community. So that’s what led us to the land we purchased in September 2022 at 2800 Richmond Road.”

The Yankee Candle property will also be home to Uptown Alley, a family-friendly entertainment center that plans to open its doors in Williamsburg in 2023. Wagner said the Oceans & Ale property is on the corner, in front of Carrabba’s and closest to Richmond Road. The tentative plan to open target is the summer of 2025.

Wagner and Radford worked together early in their corporate food and beverage careers before Radford decided to chase his own dream of opening a restaurant. Later, Wagner and Wozniak met when both worked at the Williamsburg Marriott. Wozniak was the executive chef and Wagner was the food and beverage director. The two became close friends and quickly realized they also shared a common dream to own and operate their own place. 

Chef Mike Wozniak. (Courtesy of Oceans & Ale)

“Brian always encouraged me that when I was ready, we should do something in Williamsburg. I brought Chef Mike and Brian together one evening at Brian’s restaurant in Virginia Beach to discuss a concept and location. It was that night O&A was born, “Wagner explained. “The economic climate at that time was really tough, it was a huge gamble, but we were confident things would rebound eventually, so we felt like it was our time to strike, if there was ever going to be one, the time to chase our dream was now. The rest is history. That relationship was established between the three of us and Oceans & Ale opened our doors in June of 2010.”

The new space will also give Wozniak a bigger kitchen to operate in.

“Chef Mike has done amazing things over the years with the size kitchen that we have,” Wagner added. “The volume we experience has really exceeded our expectations, but operationally, they can be challenging. So moving into a new space and having a much larger kitchen, having the ability to just make things more efficient and well-rounded will result in an even better product in the end.”

The current Oceans & Ale location. (Courtesy of Oceans & Ale)

The Oceans & Ale team is working with local architectural firm Hopke | Harrison on designing the new location, which will include a replica of the restaurant’s bar, as well as space for private functions and larger groups.

Wagner said in their meetings with Hopke | Harrison, they expressed the desire to bring over many of the characteristics of the current O&A space. 

“We really want to bring the current look and feel over, along with a few new bells and whistles,” Wagner explains. “The layout of our bar is something that we’re definitely going to replicate over there. Our unique fresh catch board is another, but on a bigger scale.”

“Something that we’re super excited about will be the addition of an outdoor beer garden area that will include a secondary bar. Sliding garage doors will open allowing this inside-out bar to service both the interior private space as well as the exterior beer garden,” Wagner added “When the private dining room is being rented out or used for private functions, they’ll be able to have their own private bar in that area.”

Other plans include fire pits for the beer garden and a covered, climate-controlled patio on the back side of the building. The location overlooks a retention pond, and plans include adding a water feature.

Keeping it in the family

For Wagner, one of the side benefits to owning his own business has been bringing along and working with his son, Blake. 

“My son is doing big things and will be a part of the company moving forward. He is going on 21 years old, so he was just seven years old when we opened up O&A. He’s grown up around the restaurant and watched its growth over the years,” Wagner said. “He came to work with me at a very young age and he’s literally been here working at the restaurant since he was 14, 15 years old. Along with serving, he’s currently doing some management training with us.

The goal is for Blake is to continue to get experience in all facets of the business before ultimately taking it over and leading the expansion of Oceans & Ale into its next chapter. 

Owner John Wagner and son Blake. (Courtesy of Oceans & Ale)

“It’s been a family-type atmosphere since we opened,” he explains. “My opening team included my niece Julia, along with a lot of her friends and relatives. My wife Nikki, a local school teacher, has greeted and seated guests from time to time over the years. My daughter Morgan worked her way through college working here. Chef Mike’s dad, “Pops,” was Mr. Fix-it for many years in and around the restaurant.

‘Local’ is more than just a word

Wagner is quick to point out that the success of Oceans & Ale would not have been possible without the support of its regulars, its staff and the local community.

“We’ve always done it locally. One of our slogans from day one has been support local,” he said. “We had a support local mural painted on the wall, we have it printed on the sleeves of all our shirts. Everything we’ve really tried to do has been to support local to the best extent that we can.”

“You know, 2020 was a scary time for everyone in this industry. And we were facing the same challenges everyone was,” Wagner added. “But the support of the local community and our staff that helped pull us through that time was immense and unbelievable. Making it through that difficult time helped get us to the point of knowing we really want to keep this thing going.“ And the proximity, only a few miles down the road from this location. It just all makes sense.

“Ultimately all these factors contributed to us deciding to stay here, expand and grow Oceans & Ale right here in Williamsburg.”

This story was first published on Wednesday, March 29

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