Story and photos by Kaitlin Hill
Just 20 minutes south of Middleburg and right off Route 66, you will find Johnny Monarch’s double decker offering next level food in a fun and quirky atmosphere. Take your plate to go and be the envy of your officemates with a tasty desk lunch or dine in for dinner at one of the cozy booths on the second floor of the 1960s era, gleaming red and, believe it or not, fully mobile “bustaurant.”
The towering two-level eatery is the brainchild of Brian Lichorowic and Lorrie Addison. Lichorowic, a self-described “old internet-er” with a culinary background, and Addison, an award-winning kitchen and bath designer, met seven years ago and settled in The Plains. For Lichorowic’s second career, after 18 years of retirement, the couple considered opening a food bus—not to be confused with the more common truck—believing that while their premises and product would certainly stand out, their project would suit nearby Marshall’s eccentric small-town feel.
“We wanted something that would not only fit the area, but also allow me to be a little bit different. It’s a little bit off the center, which is how I like it and why I like living around here; the eccentricities of the area and the eccentricities of the people,” said Lichorowic
With the idea of doing something distinct in mind, Lichorowic credits Addison for giving him the push he needed to turn concept into reality. “Thank God for Lorrie. She kept pushing and saying, ‘You’re going to do this.’ Not, ‘I think you should’,” he said “She kept saying, ‘You’re going to.’”
The duo bought a 1962 British Leyland Titan PD3 from Karków, Poland, where it landed after years as a public transporter on the Yorkshire to Manchester route in England. Initially orange, the colossal coach was painted red and subjected to countless other, less obvious modifications as it transformed from road-ready to restaurant.
“She gained a lot of weight, probably the better part of 16 tons as she got all outfitted with all the equipment, steel reinforcements in the floors and the walls, and everything else.” He continued, “After we picked her up she had a lot of damage. It took about six months to get that damaged fixed and completely revamp the kitchen.”
Just behind the driver’s seat is the surprisingly spacious professional kitchen and upstairs one finds the bright and open dining room, or more appropriately, dining level, complete with curved booths and roomy high-tops for two. If necessary, the space can be extremely private, too, making it perfect for business meetings or parties. The décor combines personal touches with period appropriate themes and existing fixtures with recently repaired. Damaged tabletops were restored to mimic those that remained unharmed. Each newly refurbished surface features photographs and news clippings from the 1960s, like the NASA table dedicated to the moon landing, put together in collage format by Addison and her friends.
“We just went along with the same theme, found images and said [to our friends] have fun and fix it,” she explained. The menu is all about personal touches, too, reflecting influences from Lichorowic’s family of chefs and his professional training, his many years of catering Middleburg events and the food philosophy he developed while living on Ayrshire Farm in Upperville. “I grew up around chefs. By the time I was 19, my brothers and I figured out that we had worked over 2,000 weddings. We worked in a restaurant that seated 1,500 people.”
While working at his family’s restaurant, Lichorowic wasn’t only trained to handle quantity, but also to operate under high expectations for quality. “Everything was made fresh; my dad was a stickler about that stuff.” Lichorowic would take his passion for cooking with him when he enrolled in boot camps at the Culinary Institute of America, attended classes in France and, as an adult, catered events in Middleburg and worked on Ayrshire Farm.
“I’ve cooked for just about everybody in Middleburg one way or another over the last 20 years. I lived off Atoka Chase for 20 years and everybody has had my food, either at a tailgate, at Gold Cup or private parties,” said Lichorowic. “I lived on Ayrshire shortly after I left my Atoka house…Ayrshire taught me the value of ingredients. I learned how meats taste different, and the different quality of comfort food made with superior ingredients tastes different.”
So they thought why not do that? The diner menu is a union of the two different areas, stuff that is really bad for you and stuff that is really good for you. Lichorowic, Addison and their tight-knit group of employees have created a menu that balances indulgent treats and healthy ingredients seamlessly. If you have fond memories of Mother’s meatloaf, the Hungry Hunter’s Loaf will have you feeling nostalgic. Just like mom’s, the Hungry Hunter is moist and expertly spiced, smothered in gravy and perched on a pile of creamy mashed potatoes. There is just one difference: It happens to be completely vegetarian with vegan gravy. The best part is, as Addison put it, “You can’t tell.”
Real meat options are available, too, and definitely drool-inducing. The Steak Me Away is what all other steak sandwiches aspire to be. A mountain of shaved rib eye is blanketed in American cheese and topped with grilled onions, peppers, and mushrooms. The dish is incredibly rich but made with ingredients one can feel good about, like locally raised beef and fresh, in house, hydroponically grown veggies.
“I worked really really hard by taking classes at the C.I.A. [Culinary Institute of America] and classes in Paris to get the stuff that is really good for you to taste like it is really bad for you,” said Lichorowic.
Lichorowic’s work ethic and passion for food are undeniable and his extreme efforts are clearly paying off. Johnny Monarch’s is quickly becoming a favorite in Marshall and beyond. Kevin Henry, a return customer from The Plains, couldn’t contain his enthusiasm during a lunchtime visit. He said, “I came here the other day and it is the best food I have had for six months. Everything here is so different, so fresh and very unique.”
According to Addison, Henry’s feedback echoes that of the growing community of customers. “The reaction has been very positive and we already have a lot of regulars. There is an excitement about having something like this so close.” She teases, “And with the next stage…”
The business owners are in the process of planning outdoor seating with a stage for live music, a kid friendly area, a fire pit, and expanded in-house produce production, to name a few of their ideas. They hope to become the town’s favorite hangout.
Achieving this goal may happen sooner than they think. The combination of the couple’s infectious passion for what they do, the mouth-watering food and the truly unique atmosphere ensures a visit to Johnny Monarch’s is time well spent.
This article first appeared in the March 2019 issue of Middleburg Life.