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Uptown Joe’s Keeps Patrick Henry Revival In The Forefront

Uptown Joe’s owner Daniel Knight cuts the ribbon on his second location at the Patrick Henry Hotel.

by Gene Marrano

The rebirth of the Patrick Henry Hotel in downtown Roanoke continues with the formal opening of Uptown Joe’s, the donut and coffee shop lured to the Star City from its home base in Daleville. That store, Blue Collar Joe’s, which has been in existence for three years, will bake all of the donuts and send fresh ones daily to Uptown Joe’s, which had a soft opening about three weeks ago.

On hand for the ribbon cutting last week was Ed Walker, owner and redeveloper of the Patrick Henry, which has been converted into living spaces, commercial offices and eateries, while maintaining the historic Ballroom and much of the building’s original design. Roanoke city manager Chris Morrill and Roanoke Regional Chamber of Commerce executive director Joyce Waugh also stopped by to cut the ribbon – and to try samples of the wildly creative confectionary treats put together by Uptown Joe’s owner Daniel Knight.

Morrill said the opening of Uptown Joe’s “represents so many things we’re trying to accomplish in Roanoke. The whole idea of regionalism [expanding from Botetourt County], and it’s a small business. That’s really where we need to focus.” That and the shop’s hand in reviving the once-moribund Patrick Henry are just the ticket said Morrill. “We really want to reach out [to small businesses].”

“People want to live in downtowns; they want to be able to walk,” said Morrill, who also referred to upcoming renovations at Elmwood Park across the street. “[Uptown Joe’s is] a part of the whole energy that’s going on here,” added Morrill, who wants to make connections along the Jefferson Street corridor to the Virginia Tech-Carilion campus down the road a “seamless experience.”

Waugh said small businesses like Uptown Joe’s “are the backbone of our community, the fabric. This is a homegrown business that could be anywhere.” Waugh has taken Blue Collar Joe’s donuts to Richmond; friends have transported them to Ohio. “These donuts are getting around.” Businesses that start in the Roanoke area “generally stay in the region,” said Waugh, pleased to see Daniel Knight opening a second location.

“We got to Daleville from here because we had a very good fan in Ed Walker,” said Knight. “Ed’s people actually approached me about coming in. They asked if I would be interested – who wouldn’t be? It’s gorgeous. It was a tremendous opportunity.”

Knight said he actually moved to Roanoke almost 20 years ago partly because of the Patrick Henry Hotel – he was snowed in while scouting locations for the company he worked with, and wound up staying at the hotel. “After three days of walking around Roanoke in the snow I fell in love with it.” He soon left San Francisco and headed east. “Almost twenty years later I have a new business here.”

Walker said the First and Sixth Restaurant should open within the next month, as the building also fills up with commercial tenants. Only one or two apartments out of more than 130 are unoccupied.  “We were hoping to find the businesses and entrepreneurs that exemplify the best of what Roanoke has to offer,” said Walker of the decision to bring on Uptown Joe’s.

As to the level of interest in his building so far from all of the tenants involved, Walker said he was “pleasantly surprised—and grateful.” The Patrick Henry renovation “rediscovers a former downtown boundary,” said Walker, “it certainly does fill in a gap.”

The Roanoke developer said he might be working on “probably his last large scale project” now – the River House in Wasena just off the greenway, which will feature 108 apartments and commercial tenants geared towards the recreation crowd.

Knight aimed for a look that fit in with the Patrick Henry’s motif, with more subdued, earthy colors than the bright industrial look he employs in Daleville. The big sellers in downtown Roanoke are about the same as in Botetourt County so far: the Botetourt Bog – triple chocolate with an Oreo crust – “they fly out the door,” along with chocolate cheesecake, blueberry pancake breakfast (with bacon dust).

A “Big Lick” donut made with sea salt and caramel – in honor of the Patrick Henry – is in the works. Knight commends his staff and gives them wide latitude when creating new donuts – he’s nixed only one suggestion over the past three years.  “So far, so good,” said Knight of reaction to Uptown Joe’s so far. The café is open from 6 a.m. to 9 p.m. “The sky’s the limit,” he adds.

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