Article By: Paul Long
Photos By: Josh Triggs
Gary Wyatt is making his first foray into owning a restaurant after more than three decades as an educator. And he’s doing it with a very basic philosophy.
“Everyone’s trying to be so fancy,” Wyatt said. “How about just simple stuff?”
Wyatt and his wife, Leslie, opened the LellyBelle Community Café at 104 E. German St. in Shepherdstown on Sept. 27, and the restaurant is already making a name for itself.
With a menu that consists primarily of sandwiches, ice cream and a unique dish called an acai bowl that’s catching on in popularity here and elsewhere, the couple is trying to fill a niche in this small college town. “We love Shepherdstown,” he said. “We love all the restaurants. But there were not a lot of ‘to go’ places.”
Wyatt recently retired after spending the past 36 years teaching at a private school in the Washington, D.C., area. He and his wife had owned a weekend home near Shepherdstown for the past four years. While Gary is now here full-time, Leslie is still splitting her time between the restaurant and her full-time job in the operating room at the Virginia Hospital Center in Arlington.
The restaurant’s name is a nod to Leslie Wyatt’s childhood. When she was young, her father often called her Lelly Belle, with Lelly being an alternate version of the name Leslie.
The couple purchased the 130-yearold building in which the LellyBelle is located earlier this year, and Gary began renovations in early July. Two months later, he was ready to open. He started out with eight employees, all of whom work part-time and about half of whom are currently students at nearby Shepherd University. Two of those employees, who are not students, are helping to manage the restaurant.
Gary Wyatt did work briefly in the restaurant business while he was in college approximately 45 years ago. Of course, much has changed since then, from the variety of food being served to how it’s prepared to the number of people who are coming through the door with their phones, tablets or even laptops in hand.
However, he said, there’s one thing that hasn’t changed at all: The importance of customer service. “That’s the key,” said Wyatt. “People expect a place that’s comfortable and clean.”
Cleanliness is particularly important at the LellyBelle because of Leslie’s background working in a hospital. Freshness also matters, which is why all the meats and cheeses are sliced daily.
Two of the most popular features on the LellyBelle’s menu are its ice cream, which it gets from South Mountain Creamery, and its coffee, which comes from Black Dog. The restaurant offers a cold-brewed coffee beverage that, Wyatt said, is somewhat like beer in that he runs nitrogen through it in much the same way that Guinness is prepared. The result is a drink that contains about six percent more caffeine than a traditional coffee drink, ideal for a customer who might need a little extra jolt to get through their day. The closest establishment that offers the cold-brewed version of Black Dog coffee is in Leesburg, Va., according to Wyatt.
And then there’s the acai bowl, featuring a popular Brazilian fruit that’s been described as a “superfruit” for its nutritional value. The trend started on the West Coast and worked its way eastward, and first started showing up in the D.C. area within the past year or two. According to huffingtonpost.com, acai bowls look and taste a little like ice cream, and are essentially a smoothie topped with oatmeal, fruit or peanut butter and eaten with a spoon.
For those who prefer something a little more traditional, the LellyBelle Café serves root beer floats and recently added nitro floats, which, Wyatt said, are even more popular than the root beer floats.
Just in time for cold weather, the restaurant began serving soups in late October, and hot chocolate will be offered on the weekends. For customers heading to the farmer’s market on Sundays, oatmeal will be available. The café also offers old-fashioned candy as well as drinks and chips.
“We have a little new, a little old, a little bit of everything,” Wyatt said. In many ways, the restaurant is still a work in progress. Wyatt said he enjoys talking to customers and getting their input, not just about what’s already being served, but about additional items they’d like to see added to the menu.
Wyatt’s willingness to adapt to his customers’ needs is reflected in his hours of operation. Currently, the LellyBelle is open Monday, Wednesday and Thursday from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., Friday from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m., Saturday from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. and Sunday from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. It is currently closed on Tuesdays, though exceptions are made for special occasions such as Halloween. Those times may be subject to change in the coming weeks and months.
“We’re new,” Wyatt said, and you need to be able to adjust your hours.” By late October, just a month after opening the LellyBelle, Wyatt was seeing a steady flow of customers, with about 40 people coming into the restaurant on weekdays and between 60 and 80 on Saturdays and Sundays.
Those customers are greeted by what Wyatt described as an “oldschool” décor with retro decorations including recycled items. That doesn’t mean the café is stuck in the past. Among the modern amenities it offers is free wi-fi. And Wyatt plans to apply for a license to serve beer and wine in the restaurant.
Currently, the LellyBelle has about 700 square feet of space for customers and an additional 100 square feet in its kitchen area. It can seat about 22 people at a time. One recent weekend, there was a brief time when the café was full, and there was a brief wait for a table, but it hasn’t happened often.
Sitting directly above the Town Run, the building at 104 E. German St. may be small, but it does offer some room for expansion. There are two small apartments behind the café, and Wyatt said he may convert one of them into additional restaurant space at some point.
By opening in the fall, Wyatt was able to establish a presence at traditional Shepherdstown events like BooFest, for which his staff dressed in Halloween costumes and gave away prizes. He’s also looking forward to serving hungry shoppers on Black Friday. During this busy season, Wyatt plans on taking notes for next year and beyond.
Staying on top of the steady stream of local events may be challenging, but Wyatt has an inside edge: The mother of one of his managers works at the Shepherdstown Visitors’ Center, so he knows what’s coming up and thus has plenty of time to prepare accordingly.
While word of mouth has brought new customers in the door and kept previous customers coming back, Gary Wyatt is just looking to become part of the eclectic, vibrant Shepherdstown landscape. “We just wanted to provide a comfortable place for people to go and hang out,” he said. “The emphasis is on the ‘community’ which is in our name.”
For more information about the LellyBelle Café, call 304-702-9322. The restaurant’s website, lellybellecafe.com, is currently Mary”Betsy”MacKeil, Gary Wyatt, Leslie Wyatt, Annelise Frey, Cheyenne Furneaux under development.