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June 21--RHONDA JENKINS worked her way up the ladder at a local Home Depot, but longed to be her own boss.
John Nagro built houses and did excavation work in New Jersey, yet always wanted to be in the restaurant business.
Both have made their dreams come true by trying their hand at new ventures in the town of Orange.
Jenkins, who lives in Spotsylvania County, recently purchased Orange County Coffee Roasters, a wholesale business at 276 Berry Hill Road, from founders Al and Deb Welker.
They've taught her the art of roasting, included their recipes in the sale and are available if she has questions. The business, said Jenkins, who had explored a number of options, "is a phenomenal opportunity."
Nagro, who moved to Orange County to raise horses, spent four years renovating the former Cape Porpoise Lobster House at 182 Byrd St. as C.J.'s Restaurant.
He had opened Trackside Cafe & Deli at 118 E. Main St. three years ago, but had to close it due to ill health. When he recovered, he bought the Cape Porpoise building from the bank.
It opened in May with Mike Tyler, who previously worked at a Charlottesville restaurant, as chef.
"Anything that Mike fixes is my favorite food," said Nagro. "He makes specials every day. One was cold peach soup. Let me tell you something, it was unbelievable."
creating coffee blends
Orange County Coffee Roasters is located in a small brown building that was once housed a heating and air conditioning business. The interior walls are painted a vivid orange, the same hue as the bags of coffee that Jenkins sells under her own label and the private label blends she creates for some of her customers, such as The Inn at Willow Grove in Orange County.
"We can work with anyone's taste preference," said Jenkins, who uses French presses to make samples of various blends for customers to choose from.
For those who want a darker brew, for instance, she might pair espresso with Colombian. She can also add various flavors to the beans.
"Blueberry jam is the No. 1 favorite," Jenkins said. "Hazelnut is also popular. I sell a lot of that to bakeries. I think it goes well with their muffins and pastries."
She keeps a relatively small inventory of beans on hand, and runs the roaster twice a week so the coffee is always fresh. She's fond of saying that comparing mass-produced coffee to that from small roasters such as hers is like taking a bite from a store-bought tomato and one fresh off the vine.
"There's a world of difference," Jenkins said.
Orange County Coffee Roasters' blends and flavored coffees are primarily sold to restaurants, bed-and-breakfasts and organic markets, but clients also include a printing company, an insurance agent who gives small bags as gifts to customers and a few locals who buy them as teacher gifts.
"We sell in Tennessee, Maryland, West Virginia and every now and then in Kentucky, but mostly in the Virginia area," Jenkins said. "We also ship to California."
In addition, the company does the roasting for two customers who supply their own beans, bags and labels. And it can help customers find the right coffee brewing equipment for their business and provide training.
"If coffee's not brewed right and served correctly, then we're going to get a bad reputation," Jenkins said.
She plans to expand the business, and has already signed on three new customers this month.
"In five years, I would like to double our business," she said, "but not be so big that I can't provide customer service and a quality product."
RESTAURANT HAS HISTORY
C.J.'s is in a large white building that has been home to a number of restaurants over the past 30 years. It was originally the Orange Gourmet, then Fox's Den, Morgan's and Cape Porpoise, Nagro said.
Today the interior is decorated with vintage English fox-hunting scenes that reflect Nagro's love of horses. The dining room can seat 50 with ease, and there are two porches with additional tables and chairs. One can seat 30 and another seats 25.
There's also a bar where 30 can sit on stools or at nearby tables.
"For a wedding party, we can close off the main room and let the rest come in to the bar and the porches," Nagro said. "The key is that we're family-friendly. We have a bar, but we don't want rowdy people."
The restaurant serves lunch and dinner, and the menu includes such appetizers as spinach-artichoke dip and fried green tomatoes. For entrees, there are Delmonico steaks, lobster tails and pasta, among other dishes.
Tyler also prepares specials such as that cold peach soup and the restaurant's signature poppy seed dressing.
C.J.'s recently donated five gallons of the soup to a fund-raiser to help fight breast cancer, which Nagro said went over "really, really well."
"Any time people come in for a donation or outreach, we try to help," he said.
People are just starting to discover C.J's, according to Nagro. It didn't open with a big splash because he had just had a heart attack.
"Marie Bowman, my manager, has been a God's grace," he said. "She ran the whole thing while I was sick. It was hard on Marie, but everybody pulled their boots up and worked hard."
Now that Nagro is back at work, he's considering hiring a pianist to play easy-listening music on weekends, and possibly a bluegrass or country band to play for the crab fests that will be held on the porches and lawns.
But, he said, "There will absolutely, positively be no rap."
Cathy Jett: 540/374-5407
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