Williamsburg Area Restaurant Association members looked back on the group’s 20-year legacy, while its leaders chalked up the group’s wins in 2018 and announced its leadership board for the coming year at its annual meeting Monday evening.
WARA was formed in August 1999 by 11 local restaurant owners looking to have a unified voice representing their interests in the area’s larger hospitality industry, Aberdeen Barn owner and founding member Dennis White said.
“The decision was made that we would be better as a whole and as a team, rather than arguing our points individually,” White said.
Also at the membership meeting were Mickey Chohany, Second Street Restaurant owner and original WARA president, and Mario Kokolis, original vice president and former owner of Gazebo pancake house. Kokolis said WARA’s formation was spearheaded by his uncle, Angelo Mageras.
“We all face the same day-to-day challenges in the restaurant business, and there were some concerns about the hospitality industry in general, but we didn’t really have a unified voice to represent our industry in those issues,” Kokolis said. “That’s what got us all together, and it just blossomed from there.”
After starting with just 11 founding members, WARA Executive Director Debi Schaefer said the group recently reached a membership milestone of 100 local restaurant owners. Recent additions included Amber Ox Public House, Billsburg Brewery and Copper Fox Distillery, she said.
In the past year, WARA also organized a successful Restaurant Week initiative this past January, where 39 of its members participated by offering special discounts on menu items. The group also sold more than $50,000 in WARA gift certificates in 2018, she said, surpassing the previous year’s sales by $7,000. The certificates are valid at more than 90 local restaurants.
Also at the meeting, Alewerks Operations Director Michael Claar was named WARA’s new president for 2019 and 2020. Claar previously served as the group’s vice president. Berret's Seafood Restaurant & Taphouse Grill general manager Brian Mahoney will serve as the group’s new vice president in the coming year.
Other additions to WARA’s board of directors in the coming year include Amber Ox General Manager Joseph Veltre and Felicia Senisba with Colonial Williamsburg.
“It’s nice to know that after 20 years, it’s still an organization that plays a vital role in the hospitality industry and the restaurant industry, and still maintains that unified voice to speak for the industry and it’s such a critical component of our local economy,” Kokolis said.
Arriaza can be reached at 757-790-9313 or on Twitter @rodrigoarriaza0.