A Locally-Focused Meal (with a Side of History)
Some of you may remember the stunning old plantation-style home on Old Forest Road as Grace Restaurant, but these days there is a beautiful new concept taking up residence within the historical Locust Thicket. The Manor House is the brainchild of father-daughter pair Paul Hughes and Sarah Quinn and Chef Partner Jason Arbusto.
The Lady of the Manor
Sarah Quinn has a long impressive resume in the restaurant industry; it’s so extensive we don’t have enough room on this page to include it all. But it’s clear she followed her father’s lead. (His hospitality career spans decades and continents. He even introduced the concept of home delivery pizza to Australia.)
After earning a degree in Business Hospitality Management, Quinn worked for years in restaurants, swanky resorts, private clubs,
and then veered into the world of real estate development. It was about this time that she became a mother in London, England and began considering a change of pace.
Why Lynchburg and Locust Thicket? So how on earth did she get to Lynchburg?
Local realtor Billy Flint can take some of the credit. They met through real estate dealings, and he encouraged Quinn and her family to come to town just to check things out. They did and call that time their “eyes and ears open, mouth shut” period.
“Our main focus was to find a hospitality-orientated project.
We looked at everything including having contracts on several buildings downtown. However, Locust Thicket just kept coming back into view,” Quinn said.
In September 2013, Quinn and her father purchased the property, excited and proud to make the place shine again. They also saved it from possible demolition. Quinn says others interested in the property had plans for creating a townhouse/duplex project.
“The idea of the project was to create a destination for all Lynchburgers and visitors alike to be able to come and enjoy a piece of Lynchburg history whilst enjoying a great meal at a range of food and beverage facilities that offer something for everyone at all price points,” she said.
All well and good. But who was going to cook? With the completion of the renovation and rezoning process, it was time to start the search for a partner and chef. After scouring their considerable network, Chef Jason Arbusto actually contacted Quinn.
A Lynchburg native and Virginia Espiscopal School (VES) alumnus, Arbusto went on to graduate from the Culinary Institute of America in New York City. An internship in France followed. From there, he got a copy of the Michelin Guide and decided to knock on doors to see if anyone would “answer.” His number one pick, Alaine Ducasse, not only answered, but invited him to work in several of his restaurants.
Arbusto tells me Locust Thicket reminds him of the first place he worked in France, which was an old mill with its own history and charm. Returning to Lynchburg meant the chance to live closer to his family in Maryland, return to his Virginia roots, and allow him to send his children to his alma mater VES.
Arbusto refers to his cuisine as “Locally-Focused American.”
And what a thrill it was to hear about his passion to use local providers and seasonal products.
“I love working with local producers, and you can see me at the farmer’s markets in either Forest or Lynchburg every weekend,” said Arbusto.
But his local touch also has an international flair. He spent most of his career in France and Monaco.
“I want to be able to share some of those flavors I discovered,” he said.
Quinn says Arbusto’s Brussels sprouts can turn even the harshest critic into a believer and that his bread pudding is “simply fantastic.” She also raves about his celery fennel salsa. It consists of raw green celery and fennel as a base with fresh lemon zest, preserved lemons and fresh juice as well as green olives and capers with fresh mint.
“When you come and eat here, you can taste the fresh-made bread that has a little char and smokiness on it from the wood fired oven in our backyard or the flavor searing on the cast iron pan or the charcoal flavor off the grill. Flavor is King,” Arbusto said.
The Chef’s Table
I personally had the good fortune of dining at the Chef’s table at The Manor House with some friends.
It was so much fun; very intimate, incredibly memorable and the most unique dining experience I have had in Lynchburg.
“The idea of the ‘Table’ is for the guests to get to experience a one-of-a-kind dining experience, which is prepared and served by Jason himself. Each reservation is sent a culinary questionnaire, which asks questions such as, ‘How adventurous are you when it comes to food?’” said Quinn.
“I love the contact with the guests. It’s great to see them enjoy the food right before me. It’s fun to be able to make a custom-made tasting menu each time,” said Arbusto.
Quinn, Hughes and Arbusto are excited for their future plans, including a more casual, relaxed dining experience. “We are currently working on a small plates menu for our new upstairs tavern area which will open late January,” said Quinn. “I call this our ‘stop in after work for a drink and a quick bite’ offer.”
They are also working on finalizing plans for outdoor dining areas. Another more casual dining experience called the “Terrace,” featuring flat breads, burgers and pizzas, will be located outside. In addition, the front lawn will be reserved to offer an outdoor dining area for guests of The Manor House. Both these areas will be available this spring.
“No need to drive to Nelson County for that outdoor dining experience anymore.
We will have it right here in Lynchburg!” said Quinn.
The ultimate goal is a lot bigger than an incredible meal or night out with friends. The team wants to turn the Locust Thicket Historical Precinct into a nonprofit governed by a Board of Directors. The restaurant’s revenue would assist in the maintenance and continued restoration of the property.
Arbusto sees a bright future—one that puts Lynchburg on “the Culinary map.”
“Lots of other cities in the South and elsewhere have had their Culinary Renaissance; it’s our time now.”
By RACHEL DALTON