A tiny community in western Albemarle has its country store back.
In the ancient, clapboard building that once held the Batesville Store, chef Aris Cuadra and his wife Jessica have opened Plank Road Exchange, a country store that sells gourmet sandwiches and hosts live music on the weekends.
The reopening came earlier this year, about nine months after the Batesville Store, which used to occupy the space, was forced to close after health code violations.
For Aris and Jessica Cuadra, Plank Road Exchange is the culmination of eight years of dreams.
“My wife and I met back in 2004 at the restaurant in Orlando at the Ritz-Carlton,” Cuadra said. “We never really had the capital to open our own place, and after bouncing around for a while ... we decided that was enough for us, we want to open our own place.”
The first try didn’t pan out as they had hoped. The gourmet kitchen they opened in a bed and breakfast in Luray was short lived.
“That is what brought us to Virginia, the opportunity to have our own place,” Cuadra said. “Unfortunately that didn’t work out for us, but we met the people who own this place, and the rest is history. Here we are.”
For now, the Cuadras want to run their store as part gourmet grocery and part deli, though Aris Cuadra cut his teeth as a chef at bigger operations.
“We’re calling it a market-cafe, which I guess is pretty much what it has been in the last few years. … We have some groceries and some cool items, some olive oils and some sea salts,” he said. “We do some signature sandwiches, some grab and go-type food and we have a handful of wines and some cool specialty beers.”
Becoming a bigger restaurant may be in the future, but for now the Cuadras are happy.
“If we wanted to become a restaurant, we would go under the department of health, and we would have to make some small changes, but we aren’t sure we want to do that yet,” he said. “We have tossed the idea around, we like what we’re doing now, we don’t know what direction we are going to go in. Right now, things are going pretty well, and the seating hasn’t been an issue.”
For now, the store is well within county zoning regulations, said Ron Higgins, Albemarle County chief of zoning.
“What this is is that basically the owner has found an operator who opened a deli and he operates it under the country store regulations,” Higgins said.
Supervisor Ann H. Mallek said she is happy to have a small business like Plank Road Exchange operating in rural Albemarle.
“The community crossroads country store is something about which people are pretty optimistic and we need to make sure that what we do encourage is something that is in tune with these quiet country crossroads,” she said. “If we can find the right niche or the entrepreneur for the right niche arrives … then that will be ideal.”