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A lawyer trades the law books for four — four! — new Farmer's Market eateries.

Market Ability


What keeps Angela Whitley awake at night isn't the anxiety that comes from working 80 hours a week. She cut that out nearly three years ago when she closed her law practice to serve as house counsel and promoter for Shockoe Bottom's Havana '59.

Nonetheless, lately she's been pulling those backbreaking hours again.

In the next five months, the 36-year-old Whitley is about to open not one, not two, but three eateries. Oh, and she's opening a gourmet market too.

What's more, Whitley's four start-ups — O'Brienstein's Restaurant, City Market, City Bar & Rotisserie and Tijuana Country Club — all will be around the 17th Street Farmer's Market.

That delights the area's backers. "We need a vital, robust, urbane setting for people," says Kathy Emerson, coordinator for the Farmer's Market and co-owner of the newly opened 17.5 Uncommon Café & Books.

Emerson says Whitley's impending four-part presence in the area is just the kind of business the Bottom needs. "It encourages other retail to come in down here, and that will make a very big difference."

To most, such simultaneous efforts would seem excessive, not to mention likely to fail sooner rather than later. But for Whitley, who has been planning the sites for the past two years, the gamble is simply a matter of protecting her initial investment.

In addition to serving as Havana '59's attorney, she's an investor in the restaurant. So when she started to get worried that other Shockoe Bottom businesses — read fly-by-night bars — might not share her commitment and vision for the neighborhood, she decided to fill some of the empty space herself.

She'll be kicking off the projects at a St. Patrick's Day festival at the Farmer's Market. The St. Patrick's Day gala isn't the first event Whitley has helped organize at the historic market near the Canal Walk. But there's more at stake for Whitley now. The four businesses she's got in the works have tied up just about every dime she's ever earned.

"I'll be OK at 7:01 on Saturday," she says with a laugh. "I just keep thinking about how much there is to do."

Here's what she's working on:

First, there's Whitley's reprise of O'Brienstein's, a popular '80s and '90s eatery in Regency Square that first brought fresh bagels and an eyepopping salad bar to Richmond. O'Brienstein's, in the form of a pub and deli, is slated to open in June on the first level of the renovated YMCA building at 17th and East Main streets.

Whitley got the rights to re-create the original O'Brienstein's with the help of Havana '59 owner Michael Ripp, whose parents owned the restaurant for 17 years. Ripp consults with Whitley on many of the operational matters for the new businesses.

Adjacent to O'Brienstein's will be the City Market. "We won't compete with the farmers," Whitley promises; she plans an on-site butcher and fishmonger.

Whitley says the City Bar and Rotisserie, also to be in the former YMCA building, combines the feel of rich natural woods with an original working fireplace, big band jazz and rotisserie fare. (The building's historical designation prevents the use of a hood in its kitchen. Ripp says that means no stoves, grills or ovens, only electrical cooking systems — like a rotisserie.)

Lastly, there's the Tijuana Country Club. "Picture a country club in Tijuana," Whitley explains, somewhat bafflingly. Waiters and waitresses will wear something like tennis outfits and serve frozen margaritas. The make-believe Mexican country club will take over the former Chetti's Cow and Clam Tavern, which closed in September.

But will the area support three more restaurants in a neighborhood where everything from cafes to clubs seem to disappear overnight? One stroll around the block — east on Franklin Street, south on 18th Street, west on Main Street and then north again on 17th Street — is enough to make one feel eerily like being in a ghost town. Red for-sale stickers are slapped on many windowpanes.

"The Bottom went through some difficulties," Whitley acknowledges. But that downturn doesn't seem to worry Whitley. She's got her own theories about why the Farmer's Market is about to become prime business real estate: Cities are making a comeback; public transportation is on the rise, as is the development of city lofts and high-end apartments; and many people are seeking out the area's diverse ethnicity.

Indeed, Whitley is not unfamiliar with the business. She started waiting tables when she was 16; tips helped pay her way through University of Richmond's T.C. Williams Law School.

"I know it's a gamble," she says. "But I'm willing to do what it takes to make it

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