DOWNTOWN – For Kari Rushing, opening the Vault & Cellar restaurant is a way to stay true to her roots.
Hailing from the Middletown area and growing up just 10 minutes down the road from the restaurant at 7843 Main Street, Rushing said the idea behind Vault & Cellar is to make everyone feel like family and friends.
“We’re really focused on providing great hospitality, especially this year after the start of the pandemic where I think some of the finer touches got lost a bit,” she said. “What we are trying to offer is a great time for our guests. We want it to feel like you’re walking into a dinner party and we’re all friends.
It starts with Appalachian cuisine, in collaboration with chef Lucas Reiser.
“I really think it all comes down to legacy and growth. We take food prepared by our grandmothers and breed it a bit to make it look stylish, ”Rushing said. “Why can’t we take food from our region and make it the premium option? This is how all those world cuisines that everyone thinks are sophisticated began. I think that’s something we can do in this region. There are a lot of heirlooms that get lost, so we want to bring more of these things back in front of people so that they don’t get lost or forgotten.
One dish that has received compliments in the past is its “rabbit food”. Started as a joke on the inside, the star of the dish is a rabbit hind quarter that’s paired with golden Carolina rice, roasted carrots, and braised greens.
“It’s a really fun dish,” Rushing said. “We’ve already had so many comments from people who said they’ve never had a rabbit before but loved it. It’s nice to hear these comments and to know that we have given something to people that they have never had before and that they have been able to enjoy it.
Rushing also pays homage to the building’s former restaurant, Nana’s Irish Pub. She took Nana’s Scottish Egg idea and took it in a new direction that features a scrapple-wrapped quail egg with a breading that includes crushed pork rinds and Route 11 chips.
In addition to various Appalachian dishes, the restaurant also bills itself as having the “best selection of bourbon in the valley”.
“Bourbon is the only American spirit,” Rushing said. “You can’t do it anywhere outside of the United States, and it really has roots here.”
Part of the cuisine Appalachian cuisine consists of cooking with products from the Appalachians. Rushing said she wanted to use as much local produce as possible and had already partnered with a few local businesses in this regard.
The opening of Vault & Cellar is the culmination of Rushing’s dream, a dream few women in the food industry believe they can achieve, she said.
When she was in cooking school, a teacher told all the women in her class that if they wanted to start a family, they had to be personal chefs. This prompted Rueling to become a successful executive chef with her own restaurant while being a wife and mother of two.
“The opportunities for women in this industry are somewhat limited if you want to have a family because we can’t have those 18-hour days,” Rushing said. “Before we opened, people even asked me how I was going to open a restaurant and take care of my children. No one would ever ask that of a man. We’re open four days a week so that gives us a bit of a break, and I have really fantastic staff helping out with everything.
The name of the restaurant is a nod to the building itself, which was a bank in the late 1800s. The building still has the original bank vault.
Rushing’s husband Ian is in charge of marketing for the restaurant. He also owns Honey and Hops Brew Works at Front Royal with his two brothers.
Vault & Cellar is open for dinner from 5:00 p.m. Thursday through Sunday. He will also make coffee and pastries from 7 a.m. to 11 a.m. on those same days. Coffee is supplied by Cordial Coffee in Berryville and pastries are sourced from Flour and Water Co. in Woodstock.