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Covert Cafe is an oasis in the midst of rebuilding Vint Hill

Thursday, May. 29 | By Jonathan Hunley
Covert Cafe owner Lance Heflin said the biggest challenge he faces in his business is "just attracting people to Vint Hill." Finding the restaurant on the former Army base can take some doing. Fauquier Times Staff Photo/Randy Litzinger
Lance Heflin is probably the only restauranteur in Fauquier who has his own IMDb page.

And he may be the only entrepreneur in the county who devised a slogan around the fact that his business is hard to find.

The 61-year-old Independence, Mo., native runs The Covert Cafe, a breakfast-and-lunch operation at Vint Hill that is one of the sponsors of this year's Fauquier Relay for Life.

Heflin's page on the IMDb entertainment website comes from his first career as television producer, 20 years of which were spent with "America's Most Wanted."

And that Covert Cafe slogan is "Hard to find … easy to love!" It comes from the fact that it does take some doing to locate the eatery on the former Army installation, which has strict rules about signs.

That means the operation "has to be pretty darned good if people are going to come back," Heflin said.

Accepting that challenge, he has been building a base of customers since opening The Covert Cafe in October 2012.

To wit: Patrons implored him to make his famous brisket as they exited the cafe with full bellies last week.

Federal Aviation Administration employees who toil at Vint Hill nosh there, too, as do veterans.

Customers like the burgers, which can come with jalapenos, and the sandwiches, including "The Big B.E.L.T.CH." That's a BLT with a fried egg and cheese.

Others scarf the chocolate-chip cookies at the establishment that sits diagonally from The Cold War Museum and from Vint Hill Craft Winery. Heflin operates the latter with noted vintner Chris Pearmund.

The Covert Cafe building had been home to various barbecue joints over the years, Heflin said, but he and his handful of employees wanted to do something more.

"We're all foodies," he said.

So they have a menu that could cause first-time Vint Hill visitors to return and that allows regulars to choose from a variety of options.

The Covert Cafe also caters events in places such as Warrenton, Gainesville and Manassas, and Heflin wants to increase those efforts.

Besides the notion of being hard to find, the "covert" part of the name derives from Vint Hill's former life as an intelligence and radio "listening" post.

Heflin, however, is aiming for a different kind of audio these days: live music in the yard behind the winery and kitty-corner from the cafe.

The idea is for more folks to enjoy Vint Hill. They could make a weekend picnic visit, for example, and sample Covert Cafe food, Vint Hill Craft Winery fare and maybe even beer from nearby Old Bust Head Brewing Co.

"Our biggest challenge of all is just attracting people to Vint Hill," Heflin said as he described the work that's being done to outfit the yard for outdoor dining and events.

It won't be finished in time for Memorial Day patrons this weekend, but the wait won't be long.

Then perhaps Heflin can direct new Covert Cafe customers to visit The Cold War Museum, or tell them about how intelligence work was going on at Vint Hill decades before anyone had heard of Edward Snowden and his National Security Agency leaks.

"The history of the place is fascinating," he said.

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