After months of hard work and delays, a local couple is finally ready to bring its slice of Latin American fare to downtown Culpeper.
Roberto and Natalia Negron welcomed a short list of guests by invite-only for a soft opening event at their new restaurant and bar, The Sangria Bowl, over Thanksgiving weekend.
The tapas-style establishment, located on the top floor of the old Culpeper State Theatre on Main Street, will stage another soft opening within the next week before holding its tentative grand opening on Friday, Dec. 11.
“It was definitely a lot more [work] than it seemed it would be when we first took it on,” said Natalia Negron, referring to the renovations the couple undertook after agreeing to lease the space from co-owner Jim Wells late last year. “At first, it seemed like it would be just the plumbing and electrical and a little bit of this and that to take care of, but once we actually got in there it was definitely a lot more work.”
Further complicating matters for the Negrons was the arrival of the COVID-19 pandemic in March, with the resulting shutdowns of suppliers and the unavailability of expected contractors practically forcing the project to grind to a halt.
“As soon as stuff started shutting down, we hit another hurdle because all of the equipment we’d planned to lease was put on hold,” Natalia Negron said. “Because we couldn’t get all those items, we had no choice but to slow things down.”
During the spring and summer months, the Negrons relied on assistance from family and friends to chip away at their renovation to-do list. They also decided to purchase all of the equipment they were originally planning to lease.
“We were so lucky to have family, close friends and some loyal tradesmen here in the area step up and help us,” Roberto Negron said. “With that outpouring of support, we were really able to overcome a lot of hurdles.”
“COVID-19 forced us to take things slowly, which ended up being a positive thing” Natalia Negron added. “We took our time and didn’t rush things, and I think that has benefitted us in the long run.”
This is the couple’s first foray into restaurant ownership, though they both have experience working in the food service industry. Natalia, who is of Puerto Rican and Chilean descent, grew up in Fauquier County, while Roberto, who is Puerto Rican, hails from Woodbridge. They moved to Culpeper five years ago.
“We’ve wanted to bring our Latin American and Caribbean flair to the people of Culpeper for some time now,” Natalia Negron said. “We feel like we can provide a very viable and appealing new dining option for them.”
As is custom with a tapas-inspired restaurant and bar, The Sangria Bowl’s menu will be tailored around smaller plates rather than four-course meals. The Negrons said patrons can expect items such as shrimp ceviche, spicy chorizo, empanadas, tacos, flatbreads, plantains and a Cuban-inspired flank steak.
“I think many of the items we’ll be offering, especially the flank steak for example, haven’t been introduced to the area yet,” Roberto Negron pointed out. “It’s about bringing a flavor to Culpeper that many people haven’t experienced before.”
The Sangria Bowl’s dessert menu will feature flan, crème brûlée, bourbon cake and cheese and guava empanadas.
In addition to trying the bar’s trademark sangria, guests will also be able to select from a cocktail menu should they choose to wet their whistle.
Also, just in time for the holiday season, the Negrons are planning to offer Coquito, a Puerto Rican-style eggnog with a rum base.
The Sangria Bowl will be open six days a week, with Mondays off. The Negrons said the tentative hours will be from 4:30-10 p.m. during the weekdays and from 9 a.m.-10 p.m. on the weekends, and they plan on employing a staff of approximately 10 people. Patrons who visit on the weekends will be able to take advantage of a bottomless brunch option.
“We absolutely cannot wait to get people in here,” Roberto Negron proclaimed with excitement. “Whether they choose to enjoy the Latin American motif in our dining room or relax on the balcony with fantastic views of downtown Culpeper, we think they’re going to really enjoy themselves here.”