By Camden Layell | Photos by Ryan Freeland
You’ve probably never had a pizza topped with chicken, jalapeños and hot sauce. Well, now you can thanks to “The Hot Chick,” a specialty slice of pizza at downtown’s newest eatery, The Corner.
Pat Roberts, originally from Long Island, N.Y., made the move to Harrisonburg in 2002 when he purchased and ran the Chanello’s pizza location downtown. Soon after, he met Mike Barber, who had also moved to the area from New York around the same time. A friendship blossomed, with the two frequently hitting up the downtown scene. Like Roberts, Barber wanted to get into the full-service restaurant business. An opportunity presented itself as the pair noticed the location at 95 S. Main St. (formerly Cuchi Guido’s) was for sale
“We thought to ourselves, ‘What can we do there?’ ” Barber said, “and that’s how it all started.”
When it came to deciding what type of restaurant they wanted The Corner to be, it was all about bringing something new to town.
“It’s really important for us to differentiate ourselves from the other places downtown,” Roberts said. “For instance, we’ve got Jack Brown’s and Billy Jack’s right across the street, so we didn’t want to serve burgers or wings.”
The two decided to bring the New York flavor they loved to Harrisonburg.
“We serve New York style deli sandwiches, pizza by the slice, and beer and wine,” Roberts said. “I saw that no one else was doing this here and it seemed to be something that people really wanted.”
They designed their menus to reflect the restaurant’s street theme: each section of food boasts headings such as “The Bike Lane,” “The On Ramp,” “The Off Ramp,” “The HOV Lane” and “The Interstate.” The Corner offers New York classics such as the reuben, meatball parmesan, pretzels, fries and pizza. Also unique to The Corner is the build-your-own nachos for $8.49.
Roberts’ decision to open The Corner was largely because of changes he’s noticed in the evolution of downtown Harrisonburg.
“Four years ago, I would never have even thought to open a place like this,” Roberts said. “Downtown has really changed, in large part to things like the Downtown Dining Alliance and the Downtown Renaissance. It’s a great thing.”
Wanting to pay tribute to the work being done to build up the area and with a desire to get local businesses together, Roberts had the idea to decorate the upstairs walls with shadowboxes that not only spotlighted some of downtown’s shops but also gave a New York window-shopping vibe to the space.
“I’ve offered these to local businesses, free of charge, to come in and decorate the box to draw attention to their business,” Roberts said. “What it does for me is that it allows me to decorate my walls in a unique fashion, as well as bring a sense of community and downtown awareness.”
Some of the stores with their own boxes include Duo, Wine on Water, Laughing Dog, Shenandoah Bike Company and Wonder Skate, each featuring interesting items representative of their store.
“It’s great advertising and cross-promotion,” said Samantha Tomfohr, owner of Duo. “It’s all about community helping community.”
The Corner is preparing to differentiate itself in an additional way by introducing some distinctive entertainment to the restaurant.
“We’re getting ready to have several weekly events, like a game night,” Roberts said. “A lot of people are doing trivia nights, so we didn’t want to copy that. We’re going to do a free poker night for prizes at the end, and we’re also looking to getting in live music.”
Both Roberts and Barber say their goal to bring something more casual and affordable to downtown has been met with a tremendous response.
“We’re excited with what’s going on downtown,” Barber said. “We think more people are coming through, more people are stopping for a meal, stopping for a beer — that’s what we want to be a part of.”