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F.C. Restaurateur, Wilson Whitney, Dies

WILSON WHITNEY

H. Wilson Whitney was born in Tyler, Texas on December 21, 1958 and lived in Texas until 1988. He grew up in the Tyler, Dallas and Houston areas. While studying Construction Engineering at Texas Tech University, he worked part-time at a barbecue restaurant in Lubbock. He was soon appointed Pit Master and became hooked on the industry. On leaving Tech, he was hired by Prufrock Restaurants and served as a shift manager, then a General Manager where he was responsible for opening several Black-Eyed Pea restaurants in the Dallas-Fort Worth area. In 1988, he was promoted to Assistant Regional Manager for the Washington D.C. area where he had a major role as part of the expansion team that opened five Black-Eyed Peas in the area.

In 1989, he became permanently committed to becoming an entrepreneur. He and two associates pooled their money to buy T.T. Reynolds restaurant in Fairfax. Wilson met his future wife, Alice Lima-Whitney, at T.T. Reynolds when she was a student at George Mason University. They married in October 1993. Wilson moved on from T.T. Reynolds in 1994 to pursue another venture with his brother, David Whitney.

In 1994, Wilson secured a site along Washington’s U Street corridor, Republic Gardens, a relic from the “Black Broadway” days of the 1920s into the 1950s. He revived the name and operated Republic Gardens for about a year. He then met Marc Barnes who bought the restaurant from Wilson, renovated it and brought in his large following of party-goers as customers. Wilson and Marc remained in contact over the years as they each continued building businesses in the area.

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Wilson then began searching for another restaurant. In 1996, Wilson and partners purchased an Italian restaurant at the corner of Wilson Boulevard and North Rhodes Street in Arlington. The name of this venue was promptly changed to Rhodeside Grill and continues to operate. His two operating partners at the beginning were Thomas Tijerina and Jeff Heineman. Jeff served as Chef until moving on to his own venture, Grapeseed, in Bethesda, Md.

Wilson launched Rhodeside Grill only after a renovation and continued to make incremental changes over the years. The menu was eclectic American food, the theme for all following restaurants. In the early days, he hired two young and very able manager/bartenders, Adam Lubar and Chris Lefbom. In 2000, Adam and Chris identified an Arlington restaurant for sale, located at 1345 N. Courthouse Rd., that they wanted to buy. The restaurant became another Arlington favorite — Ragtime.

In 2000, Wilson partnered with three Rhodeside staffers — chefs Aimee Suyehiro and Stephen Scott as well as Adam Roth — to open Argia’s in Falls Church City, another success. Wilson later sold his interest to his partners.

In 2006, with both Rhodeside and Ragtime doing well, it was agreed that the three operating partners would exchange shares so that Wilson, Adam and Chris would be equal partners in the two businesses.

In 2008, Dogwood Tavern, 132 West Broad Street, Falls Church, was launched after purchasing and renovating the prior restaurant; and in 2011, William Jeffrey’s Tavern, 2301 Columbia Pike, began operations after leasing, designing, and constructing the entire restaurant in a new high-rise apartment complex.

In 2015, Vintage Restaurant Holdings, Inc. was organized with the four restaurants as subsidiaries of this umbrella corporation.

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Wilson was diagnosed with lung cancer in May 2018. He recognized several months ago that he could not continue to carry a full workload and arranged with his partners to retire in mid-2019. On April 10, he lost his battle with lung cancer. He has been recognized by many of his current and past employees as a leader, mentor and teacher. Over the years, he has done every job in a restaurant and knew what was needed and practical to be successful.

He has also many good friends in the area who will miss him. He is survived by his wife, Alice Lima-Whitney and his two daughters, Emma and Clara, of Falls Church; His parents, Herbert W. (Bud) Whitney and Elaine Whitney of Richardson, Texas; his brother, David Whitney, of Montrose, Colo.; his sister, Merrie Whitney of Richardson, Texas; and his sister, Laura Daly, of Austin, Texas; and numerous loving uncles, aunts, cousins, and in-laws.

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