Fleming Mountain Grill breathes new life into an iconic space
It isn’t a surprise that when the name “Mitchell” is used in conversation within the Hill City, it is most often answered with one question, “As in Mitchell’s Grocery?”
With the opening of the beloved location’s doors in 1949 came residents from all across town to fuel their tanks, catch up with a friend, or grab some of Mitchell’s famous fried chicken. From their warm atmosphere to their warm meals, the spot became a home for any and all.
The grocery stood firmly at 1060 Lee Jackson Hwy. for sixty-five years until the closing of its doors in 2014. Today, most Lynchburg locals still recall both the authentic fried chicken and friendship that came from within Mitchell’s Grocery walls; a place that offered up much more than just a meal to anyone who went there for gas or grub. As of January 2023, however, the place has been made anew. Today, sitting within Mitchell’s Grocery Store’s footprint is Fleming Mountain Grill—a revamped version of the old, treasured space, now serving hospitality, smiles, and the best ribeye in town.
This chapter of the story began years ago after the Mitchell’s Grocery chapter came to an end. Somewhere in Wilson, North Carolina sat Roger Keeling, a baseball coach who had stumbled into a run-down steakhouse in a cinder block building. Despite the appearance of the restaurant, the food was impeccable. So impeccable that Keeling, upon returning to his home in Lynchburg, thought,
“We need something like that in Lynchburg.” Going back to the Wilson spot soon after, Roger knew. “The old Mitchell’s Store,” he said to his wife, Carolyn. “That’s where we need to put a steakhouse.”
After deciding to make those thoughts a reality, the Keelings knew they couldn’t be the sole operators. Enter Kevin Smith, an experienced butcher who was told of the idea and posed the question, “Are you interested?” He visited that same place in Wilson that sparked Roger’s vision and replied, “Yeah, I like it.”
The Keelings’ dream soon transpired from an idea, to purchasing the old Mitchell’s Grocery building in April of 2022, to finally turning it into the restaurant they imagined. With Roger’s background in construction, Carolyn’s superior design eye, and Kevin’s knack for “physically destroying things,” as Roger jokes, the process took from the end of May 2022 to the end of December 2022, about 8 months.
Throughout the renovation, they strove to bring a new look while keeping the roots of the old grocery there.
“Mitchell’s was such a centerpiece of our community,” Keeling noted. “We wanted to build around some of the existing building—to create a space where people would walk in the doors and feel like they were home.”
“Country elegance,” Keeling deemed the atmosphere of the space. “It’s meant to feel like you’re just outside of the city and heading into the mountains, like you’re sitting in our living room, having dinner.”
Due to Smith’s familiarity with meat and the Keelings’ previous ownerships of two restaurants outside of Virginia, the owners knew their place would be a steakhouse. But when the future opening of Fleming Mountain Grill was announced, there was one question on everyone’s mind: “Is Mitchell’s fried chicken coming back?”
The owners got connected with Kay Mitchell, the last owner of the store.
“We brought Kay on as a small partner to ensure we got the old chicken right,” Roger Keeling explained.
“It’s the real deal!” Smith chimed in with agreement. “There would be no way to do fried chicken without it being Mitchell’s.”
The original fried chicken isn’t the only staple on the Fleming Mountain Grill menu, however. They specialize in high-end meats across the menu, including rib eyes, tenderloins, and filets. Table cut by Smith himself upon ordering, the popular 1920 rib eye from Greater Omaha Packing Company is one of the top signature meals at the restaurant.
“It’s a very high-end steak,” noted Smith. He tells customers who order it, “The royal family of Dubai gets their meat from Greater Omaha Packing Company, so here, you’re eating like royalty.”
The excellence of Fleming Mountain Grill doesn’t stop with their menu, either.
“When people come in, we have a beautiful live edge bar,” Smith stated. “No one else in the Lynchburg area has that.”
Behind the bar is Mixologist and Bar Manager Michelle Simmons, who has been in the community for twenty years and excels in making craft cocktails.
Keeling and Smith emphasize how important each of their customers’ experiences at Fleming Mountain Grill is to them, and they aren’t shy to give credit to each of their thirty-two employees. They think all of their staff members are “in the right seat on their bus”; everyone is vital to the success of the restaurant.
Most of the staff is handpicked, for that matter. Keeling and Smith sang the praises of their team members, including Alice Ritchey and Tommaso “Tommy” Crouse, employees who have been in the service industry for years. The younger servers just starting out are equally important to the operation as well. Keeling and Smith emphasize how they are constantly working with and investing in the next generation.
Smith voiced that the restaurant is always progressing, and that clearly is rooted in the passion exuding from all parts of the operation: from behind the bar to front of house, from steaks to cocktails, from the staff to the owners.
“We’re barely eight weeks old [at the time of this writing], but we’re always learning and evolving,” said Keeling. “Our goal is to get better every day. We know we will occasionally mess up, but we want to strive to get better and better, so we become a long term staple in this community.”
Fleming Mountain Grill is the perfect blend of old and new, a mixture of nostalgia and novelty. It serves as a fresh breath of air and a commitment to the community that even when one door closes, another one opens—and sometimes, it’s a familiar door that calls you back home.