NEWPORT NEWS, Va. (WAVY) — A popular family joint specializing in burgers, chicken sandwiches and homemade ice cream is making its way across the James River to Newport News.
Farmer’s Table, established just months before the start of the pandemic in the middle of a Smithfield strip mall, is opening a second location at 11135 Warwick Blvd., in the same building as Port Arthur Chinese. It opens on Friday.
A post on Facebook announcing the new spot was met with big fanfare, and more than 160 shares, with fans pleading with them to come to other parts of Hampton Roads next. One commenter simply put: “Newport News is being blessed.”
Owner Bobby Hionis, who owns the business with his wife Katelyn Jones and a longtime friend from Hampton, says he picked the location because it’s within about a mile and a half from Christopher Newport University, Riverside Regional Medical Center and Warwick High School. Then of course, Newport News shipyard is right down the road.
The new place will have similar hours to Smithfield (11 a.m. to 9 p.m.), but Hionis is preparing to add breakfast in Newport News. He anticipates both breakfast (with “grab and go” breakfast sandwiches and burritos, pancakes/waffles, etc.) and a food truck that will go to places such as the shipyard will be rolling in by spring 2023.
Hionis, 43, moved to the Tidewater area with his parents back in 1997 from Washington, D.C. after they sold their restaurant in Georgetown. They would build the Crab Shack on the James in Newport News, a well-known seafood restaurant on the water right next to the James River Bridge that his parents still operate. His family’s also behind Bubba’s Seafood Restaurant near the Lesner Bridge in Virginia Beach.
After two decades working with seafood, Hionis thought the area needed a “hole in the wall” family-style place focused on high-quality ingredients from the turf.
He chose Smithfield because he had family and a farm on that side of the water, and gained a loyal and vocal following serving up made-to-order burgers and hand-breaded chicken sandwiches.
Then there’s the ice cream, made in-house with flavors such as baklava (Hionis’ family is Greek), white chocolate pistachio and lemon cookie. They also have soft serve that they mix with combinations such as Cap’n Crunch and Reese’s, and classic staples such as banana splits and milkshakes.
Hionis’ pride and joy seem to be the chicken sandwich: “we have the best chicken sandwich ever.” The spicy version comes with spicy sauce (a secret recipe), pickles and pepper jack cheese.
“Every chicken sandwich we make is hand-breaded, hand-butter milked to order, it’s delicious. It really, really is ridiculously delicious, especially compared to Chick-fil-A.”
The burgers though aren’t an afterthought to the chicken. They’re a special custom blend made for the restaurant, coming from cows on a farm outside of Lynchburg, Virginia. Anything else Hionis can get locally he can, including from his family farm.
“Last year, it was a lot of tomatoes, lettuce, and we have future plans of taking the farm and doing more of that ourselves.”
That commitment to local ingredients helped the Smithfield restaurant thrive despite the pandemic.
“We stayed open and focused on to-go food and curbside service … with the help of social media we got our name out there and people started checking us out right away,” said Russell Karchner, a part-owner who helps run social media.
Unlike the old location, the one in Newport News will have a walk-up window to take your meal to go, and a patio to sit outside and look at Hionis’s (still functional) John Deere and Allis-Chambers tractors, the latter of which is an early 1950s model.
“The traditional theme of being able to walk up to a window and order your cheeseburger like the good old times, something to have fun, something to have fun with your kids …” he said.
Hionis will take charge of the new business and Karchner, a part-owner and Hionis’ friend of more than 20 years, will stay behind to help in Smithfield. Meanwhile, two employees hired three years ago as young adults at the original Farmer’s Table will join him in Newport News as partners, and will receive an increased percentage as the years go on.
Karchner is a Hampton High grad who started with Hionis in Smithfield. He’s also a military and service industry veteran and loves classic/muscle cars (he has more than 60 in total). That’s how he and Hionis met.
Both own 1967 Camaros and have hosted classic car shows at the Smithfield location. They hope to do so in Newport News as well.