091 – Angelo Vangelopoulos, Ivy Inn
Ghost Work. With Unparalleled Hospitality. Welcome to a conversation a long time in the making. I’ve wanted Chef Angelo Vangelopoulos of the Ivy Inn as a podcast guest since the inception of Edacious! Why? Because the Ivy Inn is a Charlottesville institution and one of my favorite places to eat. Chef Angelo? One of my favorite people inside or out of the food scene both for his humor, kindness, generosity, and his great positive energy. Spend 10 minutes with this guy and you’ll discover his enthusiasm for food and life, in general, is contagious.
This conversation was no exception. We talk about his journey in food and the importance of family and community to the restaurant’s mission. We even discuss the little-known fact the Ivy Inn is HAUNTED! Love a good ghost story? Angelo has quite a few, including one that raised the hairs on the back of my neck. The Ivy Inn is located in a historic building from 1815. No surprise there.
And what about that unparalleled hospitality? It begins the minute you step through the door. This is a family-owned business and Chef Angelo along with his wife Farrell treat each customer as a valuable guest. It’s one of the few places where I trust the chef implicitly. When we walk in I don’t even look at a menu. I just say, “Feed us!” The Ivy Inn is well-known as a place to celebrate life’s milestones: weddings, anniversaries, birthdays. I still recall one 10-course feast a few years back. Which I still haven’t quite recovered from. Angelo is classically trained and the food he serves reflects that. French and Greek influences, American flavors, but all of it cooked simply and well. His version of the gyro should be Charlottesville’s signature dish. Just saying.
“We don’t follow trends very much. We just try to make good food.”
“The food is always fun…If all I had to do was just cook all day long every single day I’d be perfectly happy with that. But the whole…atmosphere of running a restaurant goes way beyond the food…there’s a whole lot more to it…that’s what burns people out.”
The Ivy Inn opened in 1973 and since 1995, has been a Vangelopoulos family-owned-and-operated business. One viewing of the video on his website cements that philosophy. He grew up in a restaurant in NOVA and every day Angelo and his friends would attend Family Meal so, from an early age, Angelo knew he wanted to recreate that atmosphere in his own establishment someday.
“There should be a better word than staff…because they’re not my family, we’re not related….but they’re much more than just employees or staff members…we’ve had a really good retention of people staying, some have stayed a very long time…it’s a huge group effort…honestly without my people I could not do this…it’s not nearly as important who is running the show as who is here each and every day.”
Then there’s the Goat Roast. Created for local food professionals in order to give them a rare day off, this event has grown into a community-wide gathering. Now regular guests of the restaurant, area chefs, and anyone else who wants to attend meets at the restaurant for an event unlike anything I’ve ever experienced. José Andrés has been spotted and one year they started breaking plates until Angelo’s mom put a quick stop to that nonsense. Everybody pitches in to help whether that’s bringing wine or cleaning up.
“Decide who you are, decide what you want to be as a business and stick to that. Don’t jump and change course…to every complaint that anyone makes. If you’re doing it right, and it feels right to you, stick to it…Be consistent.”
Then there’s that generosity of spirit. Chef Angelo is so unbelievably big-hearted whether it’s contributing to community fundraisers or coming forward to say, “How can I help?” when someone has an idea for an event. Simon Davidson of The Charlottesville 29 calls it “Vangelopolousity” a level of generosity that other restaurants can only hope to aspire to. One example? We’d barely started talking when he rushed to the oven and presented me with a freshly baked spanakopita. Not only the best in the city but the best I’ve ever had. I started to take a slice home and he shook his head and offered me the ENTIRE THING. I love my job.
Why does Greek food not translate so well to restaurants? How important is local sourcing? What’s it like to be the steward of a landmark like the Ivy Inn? Why are traditions like Family Meal and End of Shift Cocktail going by the wayside? How important are community events like Taste This! to the restaurant’s mission? Is he a social entrepreneur? Are awards and recognition important? How is cooking like being a rock star? It’s not what you think.
Such a candid interview. Angelo gets vulnerable when talking about his father’s hopes for him and his own hopes for his son. How challenging it can be to run a beloved institution while balancing the demands of having a family life outside the restaurant. I’m getting ready to pick my Top 5 for the 3rd Anniversary Special and something tells me this conversation might be a part of it. Cheers!
SHOW NOTES – Links to resources talked about during the podcast:
- Voice Your Opinion! The Local Palate produced a video representing food in Charlottesville. But they forgot to add women. Or people of color. My Facebook profile blew up on this one!
- Just Forking Around – Debi Saltzberg had me on her podcast! I’ll let you know when it airs. We sure had fun, thanks, Debi!
- A Richmond restaurant needs an exorcism. Are you a priest? Do you know one? Not a joke!
- The Chi – a new series from Showtime with great characters and one of the most realistic portrayals of restaurant life I’ve ever seen.
- Threepenny Café has closed. But never fear. Chef Jeff Deloff will be back I’m sure. In the meantime listen to his episode!
- Food and Wine With Jake – On Wednesday, January 24th, Parallel 38 is hosting an intimate dinner with local wine legend Jake Busching. Dinner guests will be treated to a seven-course meal featuring wine pairings with Jake’s celebrated wines as well as other sommelier selections. Jake will be sitting down to enjoy this dinner himself, so guests will have the chance to get to know him and chat about his limited production wines and winemaking in the Charlottesville area. You can reserve your tickets by stopping by Parallel 38 at 817 West Main Street or giving them a call at 434-260-8379. Dinner seating starts at 6:30 and tickets are $125 per person and include wine pairings, tax, and tip. Don’t miss this one-of-a-kind dinner event!
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