TOTS expands to lower level as BOTS

Originally published by the Collegiate Times as Lifestyles.
Published in print edition, front page, on Tuesday, Sept. 22, 2015. 
*one of the top three most viewed stories online.

BLACKSBURG, Va. — TOT's sign announcing BOTS hangs at the entrance on the lower level, with a projected opening in spring 2016. Photo by Loren Stinker/Collegiate Times
A staple of the Virginia Tech college experience, with its iconic light-up maroon and orange flag photo-op and Tuesday night karaoke, Top of the Stairs (TOTS) will be expanding to the Bottom of the Stairs (BOTS, of course).

Mike Whaley owns PK’S Bar & Grill and has owned TOTS for 20 years. He also owns the building and has started construction on the bottom portion of the building, with the projected completion being next spring.

“I think because we’re going to close at 11, even though a full bar will be offered down there, there won’t be a bar you can stand at, and it’s going to be more focused on the dining part,” Whaley said. “What I’m hoping it’s going to do is bring a more diverse clientele in. It is geared toward students, but it’s also geared towards adults and families and that kind of thing.”

Traditional TOTS Tuesdays will remain the same but with additions to the menu, especially for BOTS.

“I’m most excited about expanding the kitchen and expanding the food options and being able to offer more choices,” said Chaz Oldfield, a manager at TOTS.

Students frequent TOTS more in the evenings, but Whaley is excited for the bigger kitchen and expanded restaurant, which will allow for new menu items and an additional capacity of 45 people inside and up to 40 people outside on College Avenue. The theme of the first floor will be similar, with the idea of a gourmet barbecue shack.

“I’m going to have the capacity to do a lot of food down there with the smokers, so it’s going to be fun and it’s going to be a lot easier,” Whaley said. “The quality of the food is excellent now, but it’s going to get better and more consistent.”

In addition to a larger kitchen, the downstairs will feature a “menu replacement counter,” where customers can get to-go meals and order ahead for pick-up. “Blacksburg isn’t really known for its barbecue – most barbecue restaurants have the same stuff,” Whaley said. “We’re going to do some fun stuff, like brine a pork loin and lightly smoke it and slice it, put it on a jalapeño roll on top of a potato pancake and put apple chutney on it.”

TOTS classics, including their pulled pork and chicken, brisket, sausage and traditional barbeque sides, like macaroni and cheese, will be available both upstairs and downstairs. BOTS will also offer new menu items with a focus on seasonal recipes, including brine, pork loin, turkey legs, honey-baked ham and sauces of the week, inspired by international cuisine.

“I feel like our food’s really good but not as many people come to eat because they consider it a big college bar hangout – and it is, after 11, and all day on football games,” Whaley said.“Hopefully more people will give it a try.”

Construction has already begun and will continue to progress at a steady pace to prevent disrupting the current business and adjacent businesses, including Jimmy John’s. “TOTS isn’t the TOTS people think it is until after 11 at night,” Whaley said. “That’s how all the places are in town – we’re just like every other restaurant before 10, 11 o’clock, and then the atmosphere changes later at night, and we start having karaoke, DJs and bands and all that kind of stuff.”

Some students have not yet heard rumors of expansion to the TOTS they know and love.

“I had no idea they even had food until my friend told me last year. They have an all-you-can-eat rib night, and I went with all my roommates,” said junior Caroline Cleary. “I think it’s a smart idea, and they should definitely advertise it a lot because I don’t think anyone knows about it."

Students who typically visit TOTS only at night have also heard about the expansion. “It’ll be interesting to see what’s going to happen,” said senior Tyler Thrift. “It’s pretty good – I like their mac and cheese. Given the opportunity, I would try their food again.”

Established in 1978, this new addition to a long-time downtown destination aims to expand the menu and dining space of TOTS. In the coming years, Whaley has ideas about off-site cuisine and large-scale catering. But for now, TOTS is focusing on taking the restaurant to another level.

 “BOTS is going to make all of TOTS look a little better without getting rid of the rustic charm that it has,” Whaley said.

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