By Virginia Churn, Richmond Times-Dispatch, Va.
Knight Ridder/Tribune Business News
May 23--Although Barrister's Cafe has opened at the John Marshall Hotel and events are being held there, guest room plans have been delayed further.
"I don't have a new date" for the opening of guest rooms, said Gregory H. Granger, son of Gilbert L. Granger of Williamsburg, who bought the 15-story John Marshall Hotel last September at auction. The 443-room hotel at Fifth and Franklin streets was built in 1929 and closed in May 1988.
"I know we're just pressing on as fast as we can," Greg Granger said. "Mostly it is air conditioning at this point, getting it all working and replacing some of it."
Gilbert Granger initially had hoped to open some rooms by Thanksgiving and then by the first of the year. Those dates were delayed because of work on fire sprinkler systems and smoke detectors. Sprinklers have been installed on floors with meeting and conference space and on some guest room floors, but more work is still to be done on upper floors, Greg Granger said. Air conditioning for the entire hotel complex totals $4.5 million, Granger said.
Workers late this week indicated that, with luck, air conditioning might be available by the middle of next week.
Barrister's Cafe, which opened for lunch in April in the former Soup Factory space, is operating supplemental air-conditioning equipment.
The restaurant space, as well as the hotel's banquet and catering operations, are leased to two brothers, James Tsamouras of Richmond and Dean Tsamouras, who has operated the College Delly in Williamsburg since 1986.
Lunch service is from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. in Barrister's Cafe, which seats 55 and has waitress service. A deli in the cafe is open from 10:30 a.m. to 3 p.m., and offers self-serve and carry-out items. Lunch choices include salads and sandwiches such as paninis, which are on grilled, rustic Italian bread. Those items, as well as such entrees as salmon and crab cakes, are available in the cafe.
Barrister's will begin serving dinner on June 5, and also will open for Sunday brunch. Dinner will be offered Thursday through Saturday from 5 to 10 p.m.; Sunday brunch, which will feature waffle and omelet stations, will be from 10 a.m to 3 p.m., James Tsamouras said. The dinner menu will include beef, duck, salmon, crab cakes and vegetarian items, as well as regional dishes.
The cafe's business has been "very good" with no advertising except word of mouth, said Dean Tsamouras. "I wanted a slow opening," he said. "We still have things to work out," such as the computer system.
People who attend functions at the hotel recall events in their lives that took place there, such as a first date, a prom or a wedding, Dean Tsamouras said. "Everyone has his own little piece of memory," he added.
"I think people will embrace this hotel," he said, but he does not expect that to happen overnight. "We want to do things right, do things thoroughly," he said. "We want it to be a grand old hotel like it was before."
The restaurant's approximately 3,000 square feet and kitchens were renovated. Dining spaces are decorated in a law theme with antique furniture, portraits, drawings from early 1900s Colliers Weekly magazines and books. An etching of John Marshall was used for the business's posters and menus. Marshall was chief justice of the United States from 1801 to 1835.
Events in the hotel's Virginia Room have included a Chesapeake Bay Foundation legislative reception in January; a sit-down dinner for 225 for the Virginia Council of Higher Education in March; Richmond Montessori School's auction in April; and Sunday brunch for 225 people for Centenary United Methodist Church early this month.
The Marshall Room, where the Richmond Jaycees were hosts at a recent sit-down dinner for 40, has received $10,000 worth of new chandeliers. Upcoming functions include a rehearsal dinner for 40 in the cafe and a private dinner dance.
The gift shop, leased to George Rosenson, "has been open for the events we have had," Greg Granger said. "It is only open when we are open, when we have potential customers."
Granger said he is negotiating with a national health club on leasing 20,000 square feet of space and has talked with potential tenants for the former Captain's Grill and additional retail space in the hotel.
"We are working on additional financing for the project. Some things only go as fast as there is cash for them, Granger said. "It's a great project, a great hotel."
(c) 1998, Richmond (Va.) Times-Dispatch. Distributed by Knight Ridder/Tribune Business News