Area near Rivanna River seeing more economic activity

By mid-June, visitors to the Riverview Park trail and others will be able to stop for an espresso or a slice of strawberry and rhubarb pie.

The Pie Chest and Lone Light Coffee had planned to open a second Charlottesville location at 1518 E. High St. on Monday, but flooding postponed the opening.

Unlike the downtown location, the East High café will have a kitchen and roasting facility on site. Since The Pie Chest opened in 2015, the bakers have worked in a converted house near Preston Avenue. In early May, all baking moved to the East High building.

“I could only have four people working at once, and we only had room for two ovens. Now, I can have all six or seven of us working, and we have four ovens,” said Pie Chest owner and baker Rachel Pennington. “It’s been a sea change for our productivity and efficiency.”

The kitchen was so important to Pennington that she initially did not imagine a café at the site at all.

“When we realized that the layout provided a nice little feeling like Grandma’s kitchen, which is the vibe that we have at Fourth Street, we thought — why not?”

Now that her employees have more space, Pennington wants to encourage them to experiment more.

“I have a great, great staff right now. They’re all talented in their own niches,” she said. “There’s going to be a rotating spot in the case every week for one of my staff members to show off.”

Lone Light Coffee also is looking forward to the new space. Owner Wes Knopp used to roast the coffee and make Lone Light’s signature chai and almond milk in a house in the Woolen Mills neighborhood.

“The section in the back is a much better layout for roasting than where we’re roasting right now,” Knopp said. “It will also be a lab and testing room for us to expand our quality control and experiment with products.”

Pennington rents the space on East High from Will Richey, owner of Revolutionary Soup and The Whiskey Jar. Richey co-owned The Pie Chest with Pennington until last year. Before Richey’s company Ten Course Hospitality bought the building, the site had hosted a thrift store, a tattoo parlor and a locksmith.

“It’s a great side of town that isn’t tapped yet with coffee or pie. We’ve already heard a lot from local residents who live within walking distance who are all super excited to have us here,” Knopp said.

Edgar Gaona, manager of La Michoacana, is one of those locals. Since Spudnuts closed, Gaona has missed having a coffee place close to his restaurant.

“As long as they’re selling coffee, they’ve got me as a customer. I can’t wait for them to open,” Gaona said.

Originally one of Charlottesville’s first food trucks, La Michoacana opened on East High Street 10 years ago under Gaona’s parents.

Since then, Gaona has seen Charlottesville grow and change, but he is not worried about losing his family’s business. In fact, La Michoacana is planning its own second location on the other side of town.

“Sometimes, people are craving street food. Sometimes, people want to go high-end with a date. And then you’ve got middle-class, where you basically eat every day,” Gaona said. “What they’re doing now is allowing taco trucks on the corners. Those are growing, as well.”

Rivanna River Company, which rents kayaks, tubes and other water gear, is moving from under Free Bridge to the property immediately behind the café. Pennington hopes to collaborate on events in the future.

“Our LLC is Dandelion Seed, with the philosophy that life blows you along at its whims and you go with it. You’re planted where you landed and you figure it out until you’re uprooted and get blown away again,” Pennington said.


Emily Hays grew up in Charlottesville and graduated from Yale in 2016. She covered growth, development, and affordable living. Before writing for Charlottesville Tomorrow, she produced a podcast on education and caste in Maharashtra, India.