A nearly $2 million overhaul is bringing a downtown Petersburg landmark back to life as a restaurant and farmers market.
A group led by local developer Tom Wilkinson and Richmond restaurateur Frits Huntjens later this month will open the aptly named Farmers Market Restaurant & Bar at 9 E. Old St. in the historic Farmers Market building in the city’s Old Town district.
The 10,000-square-foot, two-level octagonal brick structure bounded by Rock and River streets and Cockade Alley was constructed in 1879, although the site’s origin as the Petersburg’s City Market dates back to 1787, according to the National Register of Historic Places.
While the building is owned by the city of Petersburg, its revival is part of a partnership between Wilkinson, founder and CEO of Richmond-based Maramjen Commercial Real Estate Development, and Alexander “Sandy” Graham Jr., who invests in real estate around Petersburg.
Huntjens, previously executive chef and owner of the former Richmond restaurant 1 North Belmont, will operate the new Farmers Market.
“A lot of time and effort went into remaking this space,” Huntjens said. “We wanted the space to really reflect the beauty of this structure.”
In addition to the restaurant, a deed dating back to the 1860s requires the city operate a farmer’s market at the site, which Huntjens said will return this spring.
“We want the city to bring back the old stalls,” Huntjens said, referring to the old timey contraptions that once stored fresh hauls from the fields when the site served as the city’s primary farmer’s market. “It would be a more historic fit for the building, and would allow us to buy directly from area farmers on site.”
Huntjens added he will incorporate vegetables and goods sold at the onsite market in his spring and summer menus.
Farmers Market has undergone a sweeping transformation for nearly a year at the hands of Richmond-based Monument Construction.
“They have done an outstanding job,” Wilkinson said. “The outline was already here, we just needed to make it more suitable for a restaurant to fill the space.”
This is Huntjens first restaurant venture in Petersburg, but he is no stranger to the area. His wife, Andrea, owns Petersburg Provisions–a small grocery store at 16 W. Bank St. that doubles as a catering service.
Huntjens ran 1 North Belmont until it closed in 2010, and served as executive chef of Westminster Canterbury, a high-end retirement community in Bellevue.
Farmers Market will seat 200 and serve seafood dishes, such as crispy rockfish, broiled flounder, raw oysters, lobster and clams, and meat dishes like pork belly, duck breast and braised beef rib.
A large bar will sit in the center of the building serving cocktails and local beers, including Petersburg-based Trapezium Brewing Company.
“We want it to be an enjoyable dining experience,” Huntjens said. “People will also be able to reserve seating at the chef’s table, where they can talk with the chef as he’s preparing dishes.”
Huntjens and Wilkinson are bullish not only on the Farmers Market’s menu, but also its historic section of the city.
It’s located near the city’s historic South Side Railroad Depot Station, one of the oldest train stations in Virginia that the National Park Service will soon use as the drop-off and pick-up location for national battlefield visitors.
“You’re talking about 40,000 visitors a year,” Wilkinson said. “They are going to be at our doorsteps, and we want them to make Farmers Market their place to dine.”
The restaurant sits down the street from the Old Towne Civic Center, where acts bring out hundreds of patrons. Farmers Market also is surrounded by several residences and offices within walking distance.
However, Petersburg’s starring role in a hit television series is what has Huntjens excited about the future.
AMC Network’s “Turn: Washington’s Spies” is set to film part of its fourth and final season on Pike and River street–right behind Farmers Market.
“Filming brings out a lot of people,” Huntjens said. “While they are out here, we hope what we have done to this historic structure will draw them in.”