Are you ready to hit the roof?
Bistro Bethem’s owners had a vision for the building across from their downtown Fredericksburg restaurant even before they bought it.
It would have a menu with a laser-like focus on burgers, franks and fries, and feature a vibrant but casual setting appealing to all demographics.
“We wanted,” said Blake Bethem, “a hip, cool place to hang out and have comfort, approachable food at a decent price.”
More than two years—and many decisions— later, he and his wife, Aby Bethem, say they’ve achieved their goal with Vivify Burger & Lounge, their newly opened restaurant and rooftop bar at 314 William St.
Vivify is, in some ways, similar to Five Guys Burgers and Fries. Customers stand in line to place their orders, just as they do at the popular chain. And the simplified menu means that wait time is short. There’s also no table service or tipping.
But the similarity ends there.
Vivify’s burgers and franks are made with a custom blend of grass-fed, grain-finished beef from Martin’s Angus Beef in The Plains, and come with locally sourced lettuce and tomatoes and house-made pickles.
The beef is dry-aged for 30 days, which helps develop flavor, and the mix of brisket, shank and chuck that Blake Bethem chose has just enough fat to seal that in, he and his wife said. Bill and Holly Martin, who own the farm, are also working on a bratwurst that may be added to the restaurant’s menu.
A single, 2½-ounce burger at Vivify goes for $5, compared to the $14 Bistro Bethem charges for one that’s nearly three times as large. A double burger is $7.50, and the quinoa and chickpea version for vegetarians goes for $5.75.
Orders can be customized for an additional fee with a variety of toppings also made in-house. These include portobello confit, mustard seed “caviar” and fried eggs sourced from Snead’s Farm in Caroline County. For the franks, there’s homemade sauerkraut, coleslaw, crispy quinoa or chive cream cheese.
The Bethems chose Pennsylvania Dutch potato rolls for the buns, which can be given a squirt or two of homemade ketchup, mustard or mojo sauce—a kicked-up version of mayonnaise.
Fries are hand cut from russet potatoes, and their Tater Tots feature Yukon gold potatoes mixed with panko bread crumbs and a special seasoning blend.
Kids’ meals, dubbed “Blabby Meals,” a combination of the owners’ first names, also are available. They include a slider, fries or homemade applesauce and a choice of juice or milk for $4.
Customers can wash down their food with milkshakes—which are available with or without a spike of Godiva, Kahlua or Bailey’s Irish Cream. Cans of domestic and imported beer, glasses of a limited selection of wine and cocktails served in Mason jars can be ordered from the custom-made bar on the first floor or the one on Fredericksburg’s first rooftop bar.
“You’re supposed to be able to come in and get a burger, fries and a drink for $10, including tax,” Aby Bethem said.
The Bethems have owned Bistro Bethem at 309 William St. for 10 years. They decided to add a second restaurant and purchased the building that formerly housed Wegner Metal Arts in the summer of 2011. They started gutting it in January of the following year.
Rebuilding took longer than expected partly because they decided midstream to finish downtown’s first rooftop bar before opening.
“The original plan was to open without the rooftop bar, and add it later,” Aby Bethem said. “We figured out that we’d be doing construction while we were open.”
The Bethems drummed up additional financing for the rooftop bar, including $10,000 from Fredericksburg’s Economic Development Authority, then suffered some anxious moments worrying if they could meet the city’s building code requirements.
They ran into another bump when they had the building’s crumbling brick façade stuccoed before seeking the Fredericksburg’s Architectural Review Board’s approval. It was eventually granted.
The Bethems hired Frederick Heller, who used to own The Loft and Frederick’s on Princess Anne Street, as their contractor because he knows the restaurant business. Spaces Design Studio, a downtown architecture and interior design firm, helped pull all of the Bethems’ ideas together.
Vivify, true to its name, features bright colors along with local artwork and, whenever possible, wood salvaged when the building was gutted. It also uses natural sunlight to give it the look of a burger joint by day; the interior lighting and strings of light bulbs on the back deck and rooftop bar create more of a lounge effect at night.
Aby Bethem said that several options are being considered to extend the time the rooftop bar can be used, including adding heaters or a tent.
“We’ll see,” she said. “We’ll grow into the space.”
Cathy Jett: 540/374-5407