The Pier seafood restaurant at the end of East Davis Street recently relaunched with four female captains at the helm having weathered the worst, hopefully, of a global pandemic.
All former Pier employees—Samantha Crow, Rebecca Gillispie, Brooke Lange and Devin McCallum—became co-owners March 1 after many years working together behind the bar and waiting tables at the establishment known for its “late night” scene and open mic night.
The foursome popped the cork on champagne bottles Friday at an official grand opening ceremony with Culpeper Renaissance. The Pier is said to be the sole bar-restaurant in Culpeper solely owned by females and it’s the one downtown that stays open the latest.
Gillispie has worked at The Pier since it opened in 2013 and started working in restaurants as a girl tagging along with her mom to work at The Country Café and later at The Pier.
“It feels amazing. I’ve been wanting to do this my whole life,” said the 25-year-old Culpeper County High School graduate in a phone call. “People were like oh my gosh, going in with three other girls – they weren’t sure we were going to get along. We have been getting along really well. We are really good friends for a long time.”
In fact, one of the other co-owners, trained Gillispie when she started work at Culpeper BW3 as a 15-year-old. Gillispie takes care of catering duties as well as front of the house, scheduling and liquor orders.
“Crazy, busy, wonderful,” she said of the past two months in business.
The endeavor so far has been successful, Gillispie said. The food is fresh, colorful and homemade with seafood brought in daily from Maryland.
Daily specials attract families (kids eat free Monday) and the live music attracts young people as well as the late night crowd, mature friends and of course, regulars.
Starting May 15, The Pier can start staying open until 2 a.m. again, Gillispie said, compared to midnight per the latest rules.
She was working at The Pier when COVID-19 arrived last March and there was a period they closed down completely before opening weekends for to-go orders only.
“It was rough during the pandemic, especially when they cut back our bar service,” said Gillispie, who has a 3-year-old son.
Some regular customers died during the pandemic, she said, as well as regular house musicians Vince Vala and Dave Gilmore, Gillispie said. They are working on putting up plaques and licenses plates to remember them all, she said.
The Pier also hopes to get outdoor seating working with the town which owns property in the area along the tracks next to the Depot. Gillispie said the local business community has been amazing.
“It’s unbelievable the amount of support we have gotten from everybody, the restaurants on Davis Street,” she said.
Grass Rootes sent flowers and Raven’s Nest has been a huge help, she said, among others. Her own mother, who left The Pier recently to become manager at Culpeper Country Club, has also been enormously helpful.
Restaurant partner Samantha Crow worked at The Pier for three years before taking a step back during the pandemic to work elsewhere.
“I’ve been self-employed for a long time, had a cleaning business, so when the pandemic hit and the shifts went down, had a hard time, I did landscaping for a year,” she said.
It took a lot of prayer, thought and advice from those in the know to venture into ownership with her fellow workers, Crow said.
“To make sure it was the right decision to make with this group of girls I am working with and the confidence we had to please our customer base,” she said. “We already knew what everybody wanted. We just were not able to give it to them.”
It is exciting to now work with her partners to implement some of the changes they talked about as employees, offering a classier touch, a more feminine feel, updated paint, décor and bathrooms, Crow said.
Mom to a 5-year-old son, she hopes parents feel like they can bring their children to The Pier for lunch or dinner and find items kids will enjoy. Crow has focused on shoring up vendor supply and helped restructure the menu so it’s affordable for a middle-class family to come out and enjoy and a seafood dinner.
“We are trying to make sure we can please all aspects of our customer base,” she said.
A third partner, 26-year-old Devin McCallum, said the business endeavor has been really great so far.
“We have all worked for it for a really long time and we are just excited to finally make it our own and fix a lot of things we wanted to fix for a long time,” said McCallum, who also started Work at The Pier after graduating Culpeper County High School. “We’ve had a lot of support from the community.”
McCallum spent many a late night behind the bar at The Pier catering to the late night crowd as well as serving tables. She previously worked for Brittany Mabrey at Raven’s Nest just up the street, where McCallum said she learned how to bake and other kitchen tasks. McCallum also worked with Mabrey when co-owned Grill 309 on Main Street.
“She has given me a lot of pointers … I’ve worked a lot of places, but have always been at The Pier,” McCallum said.
There was a while this time last year when she collected unemployment as dining disappeared. Now, a year later, building on her experience, McCallum has taken a lead in the kitchen, cooking up many classic favorites as well as fish tacos with a vegetarian option, a new veggie burger, fresh seafood and now all the time, gator bites.
Taking the plunge in a pandemic to invest in a business was a bit unnerving, she admitted.
“It was kind of a scary thing about the timing – we didn’t know how much longer this was going to last,” McCallum said. “We hope we are coming into a really good time where we can see the light at the end of the tunnel and all that demand. It has been great so far, we do our best with all the regulations, hopefully will be able to pull through.”
Brooke Lange, the final partner, worked at The Pier for around six years before becoming a partner two months ago and at the same time, leaving a full-time position in administration with a youth nonprofit in Rappahannock. The 27-year-old Eastern View High School graduate said she’s always had a part-time gig in restaurants along with an office job. Now, Lange is fully focused on The Pier, for the foreseeable future.
“It was taking a leap of faith for sure,” she said, “but it’s been very rewarding. So far I am loving it – the community has been so good to us, made it a lot less stressful experience.”
Being a business owner for the first time is a wild and amazing feeling, Lange added.
“I truly am really lucky to have these three girls on my team,” she said. “They are smart and supportive … it has been interesting. We are all completely different personalities, different way of doing things, but we have come together.”
It was super scary at first, Lange said.
“The world is kind of trying to open back up, more people getting vaccinations, coming out, capacity changing, we can sit at the bar – all the stars are aligning,” she said.
Call 540/317-5600 or see The Pier on Facebook.