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June 12, 2018

High-end restaurant, wellness center planned

Photo/Lawrence Emerson
After renovations of six to eight months, Restaurant Violette would open in this former church at 79 E. Lee St., according to the proposal.
I think this would be a wonderful addition. It all fits great for what we want to do.
— Mayor Powell Duggan
Oasis Life Sciences Project
• What: Warrenton-based Oasis Life Science’s plans for a high-end restaurant, wellness consulting firm, 6- to 8-room hotel and café.

• Company owner: Michele Ballarin of Markham.

• Where: Old Catholic Church property at 79 E. Lee Street, Warrenton; remodeled, former sanctuary to house restaurant; former rectory to house wellness consulting firm; remodeled former parish hall to house commercial kitchen; hotel and café would occupy structures at other Warrenton properties.

• Jobs: Oasis Life Sciences estimates the project could create 50 full- and 12 part-time jobs.

• Property owner: The Old Church LLC (interior designer Barry Dixon), which wants $895,000 for 0.24-acre commercial property, including three brick structures totaling 7,700 square feet.

• Estimated investment: Up to $4 million.
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Staff Journalist
Her multimillion-dollar vision to promote nutrition and healthy lifestyles calls for a “gourmet” restaurant, wellness consulting firm and boutique hotel in Old Town Warrenton.

Michele Ballarin, who lives on a 42-acre farm near Markham, in mid-July plans to buy the former Catholic Church property at East Lee and Fourth streets, where her company — Warrenton-based Oasis Life Sciences — plans to establish the businesses.

“We’re really just trying to bring a wellness factor and healthy lifestyle back to the daily lifestyle,” spokeswoman Alexa Wolff said of the company’s business plan. “We’re looking to bring a fine dining establishment, with an incredible experience.”

The proposed restaurant, consulting firm and hotel eventually could create about 50 full- and 12 part-time jobs, according to Oasis Life Sciences.

The 0.24-acre project site at 79 E. Lee St. includes three vacant brick structures that date to the early 1900s — the old sanctuary, rectory and parish hall, totaling about 7,700 square feet of space.

Under Ms. Ballarin’s proposal, the sanctuary would house a restaurant and the rectory a wellness consulting business.

The company hopes to open the proposed Restaurant Violette in six to 12 months, Ms. Wolff said.

Its “gourmet” menu will reflect the company’s nutritional philosophy and serve breakfast, lunch, “light, afternoon fare” and dinner.

The restaurant will employ about 40 full- and eight part-time employees, according to the proposal.

The company estimates that remodeling, equipping and furnishing the old sanctuary will cost $3.5 million to $4 million.

The old rectory will house Rejuvenescence Ltd. — a wellness consulting firm — and double as corporate headquarters.

About six full-time and two part-time employees will work at that building. One or two clients will be onsite at a time, according to Oasis Life Sciences.

The wellness staff will use “state-of-the-art technology” to provide clients a personal “weight-loss, health and wellness program . . . . Nutritional education is at the core of everything we do.”

Renovation of the two-story rectory, costing less than $30,000, should be completed next month, reads the development proposal.

Under the plan, the old parish hall will be converted into a commercial kitchen that will be used for catering jobs and large parties, Ms. Wolff said.

While she declined to say whether Ms. Ballarin ever has started a restaurant or small hotel, the spokeswoman said her boss “has been in the hospitality industry for many years.”

Ms. Ballarin’s husband Iginio has helped operate restaurants for more than 50 years, Ms. Wolff said.

Executive Chef Roger Wiles also brings decades of experience to the enterprise, she said.

“He won a bunch of different awards, and he cooked for royal families, the rich and famous, heads of states and some really incredible people.”

Besides hospitality work, Ms. Ballarin, a licensed Realtor, also knows something about international intrigue.

About a decade ago, she participated in negotiations for the release of Ukrainian-owned merchant ship sailors captured by pirates off the coast of Somalia.

A book excerpt in the April 15, 2018, issue of Foreign Policy magazine described Ms. Ballarin as a “flamboyant West Virginian heiress . . . at the center of the tense hostage negotiations.”

The Old Church LLC — owned by renowned interior designer Barry Dixon — wants $895,000 for the property. For tax purposes, the county values it at $480,500.

Both Ms. Wolff and Warrenton Realtor Bill Chipman, who represents Mr. Dixon, refused to discuss the selling price.

The company’s ambitious concept also includes a six- to eight-room “boutique” hotel in another existing building in Old Town, Ms. Wolff explained.

“That’s another phase,” she added, declining to discuss potential sites.

And, the company eventually hopes to open a café in Old Town.

On Tuesday night, the town council probably will grant Oasis Life Sciences a “tourism zone” incentive package that will forgive all business license and “tangible” business property taxes associated with the project for three years.

That would total $39,000, according to the town.

“It’s one of those things where they have to deliver” on the proposals before Warrenton would waive those taxes, town Economic Development Manager Tom Wisemiller said. “We’re not going to give it up to them upfront.”

Because of that, “there’s no fiscal risk to the town,” Mr. Wisemiller said.

“The overall concept is great,” Councilwoman Linda “Sunny” Reynolds (At large) said.

Like Wort Hog Brewing Co. at nearby 41 Beckham St., the project could mean more business activity and foot traffic for that part of town, Ms. Reynolds suggested.

The proposed restaurant also means variety, she said.

“We don’t all go to Claire’s every night. I think the greatest thing is to have options.”

“I think this would be a wonderful addition,” Mayor Powell Duggan said of the proposal. “It all fits great for what we want to do.”

Adapting the old sanctuary as a restaurant represents a creative and desirable use of the structure, which has served mostly as storage for Mr. Dixon’s business since he bought the property in 2006, Mr. Duggan said.

Old Town needs “unique” and different businesses to draw more people, he added.

“Gone are the days of the drug stores and hardware stores.”

He especially likes the wellness theme.

“Aside from being a big economic boost for Warrenton, I think that’s needed,” Mayor Duggan said. “To me, the more of this kind of thing you have, the better for the community, the people living here. That’s not to say I won’t have a hamburger and bacon on it.”

Mr. Wisemiller in April began discussing the project with Ms. Wolff.

“I’m very excited about it,” the town economic development manager said. “It brings a lot of capital investment and jobs to this end of town. It would be a catalyst for promoting economic development and tourism.”

He believes the businesses will help Warrenton become a “destination,” attracting people who otherwise might not visit town.

“It contributes to our place-making. It’s another draw, pulling locally and far afield. . . . People will drive 40 miles to a restaurant they’ve read about in a food magazine.”

Mr. Dixon decided to sell the property because, “I feel like they are not seeing the full potential with me using them right now, and they have prime retail opportunity” for another owner. 

The Old Church LLC bought the property in 2006 for $850,000, according to county real estate records.

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Citizen Voice · June 14, 2018 at 12:10 pm
or this, re 'interesting' proposed owner.
Silii · June 14, 2018 at 6:26 am
This is a fantastic idea. But, please don't make the restaurant so pricey that the average person can't afford to go there on a regular basis. Hundreds of us are sick and tired of the generally poor overall choice of restaurants, all the unhealthy chains. We're tired of going to the same nicer places over and over and would welcome another affordable, yet very nice, restaurant in the rotation! We could stay in Warrenton for a nice, upscale dining experience instead of constantly heading to Gainesville, Culpeper, The Plains, even Middleburg.
Citizen Voice · June 13, 2018 at 9:36 pm
BJ · June 12, 2018 at 2:41 pm
Best wishes to this new endeavor! Parking will be questionable, but look forward to another venue to taste test.
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