Virgil’s Gullah Kitchen & Bar, owned by Gee Smalls and Juan Smalls, celebrates its grand opening Tuesday, July 16, on Main Street in College Park. Virgil’s, named for Gee’s late father, serves a menu of mostly traditional Gullah Geechee rice and seafood dishes.
While the restaurant has been open since late June, the first-time restaurant owners decided to allow Virgil’s the time to grow a following, relying on social media and word-of-mouth as their marketing. It gave the kitchen the opportunity to tweak each dish on the menu, many of which are based on recipes handed down from family members living on James Island, South Carolina.
Gee was born and raised just to the north of the island in Charleston, and takes his heritage, his identity, and his food very seriously.
The influences of Gee’s native roots are as visible in the decor as they are in dishes like the crab rice and red rice. Each table features a small glass vase holding a single sweetgrass rose or palmetto rose — handmade flowers woven together using fronds from palmetto trees.
The couple plans to eventually line the brick walls at Virgil’s with Gullah Geechee art. They began with a lush blue and green mural of the restaurant’s namesake, created by local artist C. Flux Sing. Sing’s family is also from Charleston.
Natural light pours into the former Duck Club Speakeasy space from two skylights, once covered with paint in order to keep the former cocktail club dimly lit inside.
They call the discovery of Virgil’s College Park location a “happy accident.” The Smalls say attempts to open the restaurant in their former neighborhood of Midtown were continually met with “Nos”. It finally caused them to leave Midtown and to seek space for Virgil’s elsewhere. That search led them to downtown College Park. The Smalls now live in neighboring Hapeville.
“To be quite honest with you, us being two same-gender-loving men, there are no black-owned spaces for us in our community,” Gee claims. “A large part of our motivation was to provide a space for people like us to come in.”
Both hope Virgil’s serves as a place where people, no matter their race, sexuality, or gender, can dine together, and say the community is already making them feel at home in College Park.
“The community over here is so invested in the restaurant already,” Juan adds. “We already have regulars. I don’t think that would have been the experience in Midtown.”
Open Monday and Tuesday, 11 a.m. to 2:30 p.m.; Wednesday and Thursday, 11 a.m. to 11 p.m.; Friday, 11 a.m. to 1 a.m.; Saturday, 3 p.m. to 1 a.m.; Sunday, 3 p.m. to 12 a.m.
3721 Main Street, College Park. virgilsgullahkitchen.com.