A team from the local restaurant industry whose resumes list Lemaire, Shagbark and River City Roll are bringing a vacant West End spot back to life with a new concept.
Brandon MacConnell, Tara Schleinkofer, Brad Slemaker and Rob Long are preparing to open a restaurant with a South American-themed menu in the former Caturra on Grove space at 5811 Grove Ave.
The new spot will be named Cocodrilo, which means crocodile in Spanish.
After Caturra on Grove closed last summer after 13 years, Long said the team began assembling.
“It’s rare to be able to get a space with such visibility,” Long said. “It wasn’t an ideal time to be talking about a new restaurant. But when you have a location like this, you just kind of make it work.”
MacConnell was most recently the chef de cuisine at Shagbark and Schleinkofer was previously assistant general manager and bar director at Lemaire. Long owns River City Roll, where Slemaker is the executive chef.
Long, Slemaker and MacConnell coalesced as co-owners of the new restaurant and reached out to Schleinkofer to run the front of the house. MacConnell, Schleinkofer and Slemaker knew each other from their years working together at Lemaire.
“Brad, Brandon and I started talking,” Long said. “As soon as it seemed intriguing to them, they knew Tara was the person they knew they wanted at the front of the house.”
Slemaker added: “We’ve known each other for like nine years. We’ve always been friends and kept in touch since.”
Cocodrilo will serve breakfast, lunch and dinner, and will include both coffee and liquor bars. In lieu of focusing on food from one specific country, Cocodrilo will serve flavors from all over South America.
“We’ll mainly focus on smaller and shared plates,” MacConnell said. “I hate the word fusion and all that kind of stuff but (it’ll be) interpretations of what we like to do with the same quality of food we’ve been cooking for a long time.”
“We’ll have cocktails on draft and frozen margaritas. Hopefully, we’ll eventually have a happy hour going,” Schleinkofer said, adding they’ll have a big tequila and mezcal selection.
A few of the menu items at Cocodrilo will be lobster enchiladas, breakfast tacos and chipotle steak frites.
The food will be cooked over an open-flame grill that they bought from Prime 109, a Charlottesville steakhouse that closed last year.
While cooking over open flames is increasing in popularity in restaurants around the country, MacConnell said they’re typically expensive and that Cocodrilo’s will be customized.
“The open fire’s going to be huge, it’s an exciting part of it. We’re going to retrofit a little bit so we can cook tortillas over the open fire which is nice as opposed to a gas flat-top,” he said.
“With the open kitchen, you’ll walk in and just see the fire,” Slemaker added.
Cocodrilo is leasing the 3,300-square-foot space, and is planning to add a 900-square-foot outdoor patio in the back.
The space has been totally gutted in recent weeks, and Long said they’re hoping to begin buildout soon with an August opening.
Commonwealth Construction Management is the general contractor, PSH+ is the architect of the project, and TowneBank is the lender. In lease negotiations, Spotty Robins of JLL represented Cocodrilo and Reilly Marchant of Thalhimer represented the landlord.
In addition to its Spanish translation, Long said “Cocodrilo” also has a fitting ancient meaning.
“In the Aztec calendar, the crocodile represents fresh starts and new beginnings,” he said. “Cafe Caturra (the prior, long-time incarnation of Caturra on Grove) had a really long run, and I think that speaks volume to the space. We’re just going to turn it up from there.”