Carrying on with a plan set into motion by her late son, 80-year-old Barbara Given is bringing an ice cream parlor to life in Jackson Ward.
With the help of friends and neighbors, Given, a resident of Alexandria, plans to open Stoplight Cafe at 405 Brook Road this fall. The shop will serve house-made gelato and soft-serve ice cream, as well as breakfast and lunch items.
The business is five years in the making, a road that began when Given and her son Bryce Given bought the 105-year-old building in 2010.
Bryce was a master carpenter who specialized in doing trim work around Richmond. The VCU grad was also a skilled mechanic who liked to fix up old Volkswagens. He had planned to use part of the Brook Road property – originally a feed and grain store in the early 20th century – as a garage to pursue his interest in cars. He owned a vast collection of Americana and pop culture curiosities, as well as a cat named Michael Jackson. After several periods of recovery, Bryce died in March from cancer at age 52.
“He would tackle any kind of new path,” Given said of her son.
The pair had initially thought about developing the Brook Road property into rentable office space but didn’t think it would do well after researching the Jackson Ward market. Bryce had experience in the food industry, and Barbara worked in an ice cream shop while growing up in a small town in Kansas, so they decided to go with a frozen dessert business.
They came up with the idea of opening a venture called Lucy’s Gelato Shop, and Bryce planned to live in the renovated apartment above.
After registering with the State Corporation Commission and purchasing a domain name for Lucy’s, the mother-and-son team faced a quandary when Lucy’s Restaurant opened just three blocks away in 2013.
Deciding it wasn’t worthwhile to try to keep the Lucy’s name, the pair set about coming up with a new one. They found inspiration in an old four-way stoplight that Bryce had planned to repair to working order and hang in the gelato shop.
The idea for Stoplight Cafe was one of many Bryce had for reviving the old building.
“He had a lot of ideas that I can’t carry through,” Given said. “But there are some that I can.”
Given is a former George Mason University professor who has published several books on special education. She turned 80 years old this month.
“Most of my friends are playing bridge or swimming,” Given said. “I think, ‘Just do something!’”
Given said she has gotten help carrying Stoplight Cafe to the finish line from nearby residents, former students and friends who have volunteered their painting and planning skills.
“A lot of it depends on young people helping,” she said. “They’re just very kind about coming and helping.”
Once it opens, Given said she isn’t sure whether she will hold on to the business or look to sell it.
First, she said, the important thing is to get it open and see how it does.