Written by Bill Kent | Photos by Shannon Ayres
The new co-owner of the Front Porch, Shawn Malone, doesn’t “get” the nachos.
“I ate here twice,” says Malone. With his partner Ginger Green (formerly of the tableware company Fortessa), Malone hopes to open The Plains casual eatery on Valentine’s Day. “The service was great. I loved the location. The food was good — a lot of fun, really, but I thought the menu was all over the place.”
Like the nachos. Before the restaurant closed at the end of last year, the Front Porch’s single bestselling selection arrived piled high on an enormous plate, which is not quite what Malone envisions on the menu of what he sees as a Wine Country bistro.
“But as soon as I bought the place, social media lit up with everyone telling me, whatever I do, I have to keep the nachos. I don’t get it.”
As a member of the family that owns Leesburg’s Tuscarora Mill and South Street Under, the Fire Works Pizza restaurants, and Purcellville’s Magnolia Café, Malone certainly “gets” food and service. “There’s a feeling you should get when you walk into a place, that you’re welcome, everybody knows what they’re doing, and anything you eat or drink will be just great. Tuskie’s has that. The Magnolia Grill, all of the places my family’s involved in — it’s what you strive for. The Front Porch had that, and I’m doing everything in my power not to change that one bit.”
To make sure, he took the restaurant’s 14 employees out to lunch last month and assured them that their jobs would be waiting for them when he was finished making structural improvements and replacing the kitchen appliances.
And he has taken it upon himself to bring peace to the most contentious dispute this tiny Hunt Country hamlet has seen in many years. “When I heard it was for sale, I was told there was some history involved. But from the moment I committed to this, there’s been nothing but kindness from all sides.”
Waybourn and Spaulding Pass the Torch
In 2018, Lisa Vella moved Baileywyck Antiques from Middleburg into a former firehouse in The Plains. The Front Porch Grill & Market became her favorite place to take clients.
“It was wonderful to sit on the Front Porch to watch the neighbors go by,” she remembers. “It was welcoming and happy. I never walked by to get my mail without popping in.”
On a summer day, a porchside table at the modest, 19th-century two-story wood frame house was a pleasure shared by locals and visitors alike. The menu ranged from traditional prime rib, grilled seafood, and hamburgers to light salads, finger foods, and vegan and gluten-free specialties, washed down with local wines, beer, and cocktails. Vella became such a fan of the restaurant’s nachos that she ordered them as take-out to bring to parties. The restaurant’s small interior market sold local and regional honey, jam, sauces, and other items made in Hunt Country that could fill up a holiday gift basket.
What Vella could not understand was a quarrel that began in 2019 with the family that bought the house adjacent to the Front Porch as a business location and residence. At first the Washers were regulars at the Front Porch.
Three years later, a dispute that started about parking issues escalated into a zoning battle between the Washers and Front Porch owners William Weybourn and Craig Spaulding. By the end of last year, Regan Washer was elected to the Fauquier County Board of Supervisors, and shortly after Weybourn was named Fauquier County Man of the Year.
Despite the honor, Waybourn decided he was ready to move on.
“I was worn down,” he says from his home in Linden. “Shawn is the perfect person to own it. He knows what he’s doing. With him in charge, I’m expecting things will calm down a bit.”
Waybourn and Spaulding also own the Paladin Woolen Mill in Clear Brook and the Paladin Bar and Grill in Stephens City. This year they plan to open a third, the Paladin Downtown, in Winchester.
“We had a good run,” he says of the Front Porch. He would rather have had things turn out differently, but “everything happens for a reason.”
All the World’s a Stage
When asked why he got into the food business, Shawn Malone likes to quote his late brother Michael “Kevin” Malone: “It got us away from our mother’s cooking.”
Born in Annandale and now living in Marshall, Malone specifically cites his first taste of filet mignon with bearnaise sauce as his culinary epiphany.
He had another, different life-changing moment while he was general manager of the Leesburg’s Tuscarora Grill. “It was a quiet night in the restaurant. Everything was running smoothly when I saw a group of people in outrageous costumes had gathered outside the restaurant. I went out to talk to them and found out they were an amateur theater group that was doing ‘The Taming of the Shrew’ that night, right out in the open, in Market Square, just downstairs from the restaurant. They had a problem. One of their actors hadn’t shown up.”
Five minutes later, Malone, who had never acted in a play, was struggling to memorize the lines of a conniving suitor in William Shakespeare’s bawdy farce.
When Malone took his first bow, he says he was “thrilled! I couldn’t believe I did it!” For the next 20 years Malone acted in over a dozen plays in various local and regional theater groups, taking curtain calls as everyone from the melancholy Hamlet to the bibulous rogue Sir John Falstaff.
What does a part-time life in the theater offer a full-time restaurateur? “What Shakespeare calls ‘providence.’ It means that things work themselves out. They never end up as you might want them to, but they reach a point where you can understand why so much had to happen.”
Since he bought the Front Porch in January, he has met with the Washers three times. He affirms that “they’re going to be good neighbors.”
Melissa Washer agrees. “Based on our handful of interactions, Shawn seems to be a great person,” she said, adding that Malone and her family “are all on the same page. I have no doubt that everything will be addressed, worked out, and all parties will be pleased.”
Washer expects her family will become regulars again when the Front Porch reopens.
For Valentine’s Day, Malone and Green have planned “a feast to bring everyone together,” with Champagne and caviar, oysters Rockefeller, lobster two ways (broiled and with a Maine lobster salad), filet mignon Wellington, potatoes fondant, and chocolate truffles for dessert, all paired with regional and international wines.
There will be at least two nods to the Front Porch’s past: the strawberry cake and, of course, the nachos.
He hopes to end the meal with a toast, recited with as much Shakespearian bombast as he can muster: “All’s well that ends well!” ML
Published in the February 2024 issue of Middleburg Life.