More than 100 years ago the picturesque, sleepy village of Sperryville lay in the shadow of the Blue Ridge Mountains much as it does today. But one unique similarity between now and then is the population. It’s only increased from 300 to some 350 inhabitants.
Growth is not a Rappahannock County trait; traditional life holds sway here.
Originally the town supported five general stores, six mills, an apple packing plant, saloon, barbershop, pharmacy and…three blacksmiths.
When change comes, the emphasis is often on building upon the past while looking to the future. The newest vision of that philosophy is located at 20 Main Street.
Welcome to the Three Blacksmiths. Step inside and let the hospitality of yesteryear embrace you in a warm and comforting dining experience.
The force behind the restaurant is John and Diane MacPherson. The energetic and attractive couple are not interlopers from distant parts. Rather, they’re an established team with a reputation for hospitality and food earned while operating the Foster Harris House bed and breakfast for 13 years in little Washington.
What drove the couple to transition from innkeepers to restaurateurs? Evolution.
“We had a good business from our five guestrooms and popular cycling tours. For the last three years we were also serving dinner to overnight guests and locals,” said John MacPherson.
Then the phone rang. A Northern Virginia real estate broker inquired if the inn was for sale. Well, no, not really. But at the end of the day, everything is for sale. The broker mentioned a princely sum if the business was ever placed on the market.
Later that morning, the MacPhersons took a bike ride and talked about selling and what they might do if they left the inn behind. Opening a restaurant was high up on their list. And while they never again heard from the broker, the single phone call set in motion the next chapter of their lives.
“We watered and fertilized and watered and fertilized and thought about it until we could not go back after receiving that phone call,” said John MacPherson.
After the inn was sold there was a gap in time before the couple embarked on their new venture.
“We had been to Europe in the past and really loved the way the restaurants operated there. The experience was magical. They didn’t have to talk about farm-to-table. They didn’t have to talk about food and wine. Everything was just normal for them. We realized we needed to go back and see what we loved about those places and incorporate it into our restaurant,” said Diane MacPherson.
A six week “research trip” was undertaken to England, Austria, Switzerland, Lichtenstein, Italy and other countries. The vision crystallized.
Back stateside, the building they had purchased was a blank palette ready for a total makeover. An architect designed the exterior and Jolly Construction Inc. completed the work.
The MacPhersons, along with their sous chef Ethan Taylor---the three blacksmiths--- began a build-out of the interior of the restaurant.
The interior was to be an elegant setting of soft wood hues showcasing an open hearth so diners could see the chefs as they crafted each evening’s dinner.
“Diane, Ethan, my mom, sister and I renovated the entire interior. We worked on every surface, including the cooking line, all the electrical, and the bathrooms. The only thing we didn’t build were the tables, chairs and cooking equipment,” said John MacPherson.
On June 9, the first dinner was served to 16 guests. And less that seems like a modest size crowd for opening night, consider the restaurant only seats 16. The MacPhersons wanted an intimate setting that reflected in-home dining with personalized service, from the welcoming flute of champagne to dessert.
Much of the food and libations are procured from local farms, breweries, wineries and a distillery.
Moreover, there is only one 7 p.m. seating each Thursday, Friday and Saturday. Dedication to providing a unique one-of-a kind experience dictated a limited service of just three days a week. Each evening diners have the entire restaurant to themselves.
“We have a small staff and we wanted a manageable amount of work so we could be involved personally with every meal. The only way you can do that is by keeping it small and intimate. There are no plans for expanding in the future. What we have today is what we’ll have in five years,” said Diane MacPherson.
The pricing and payment for the dinners is also unique. The multi-course tasting menu is $99 per person plus a $70 alcohol charge; gratuity and tax not included. Both reservations and payment are made online.
A $50 deposit is levied when reservations are made. On the morning of the dinner the remaining bill is charged to the guest’s credit card. “When guests arrive they just sit down, enjoy their meal and leave when they’re finished. There’s no business transactions during dinner,” said John MacPherson.
And how popular is the new restaurant? Since the opening, every dining night has been booked. The pace of business has matched demand.
Initially, much of the business was generated from their legion of former B&B fans and locals. Today, nearby wineries and inns are recommending the restaurant to their guests.
“The percentage of outside guests is growing and the business is stabilizing. It was a matter of getting the word out,” said John MacPherson.
For more information on weekly menus and reservations, open the “restaurant door” and take a peek inside the region’s latest fine dining venue at: https://www.threeblacksmiths.com/
This story has been updated. For more wine and business tales visit Hagarty-on-wine.com