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TASTES FROM OUR ALUMNI

From restaurants to wineries, from sweet shops to meat shops, and from craft breweries to delectable cheeses, welcome to the tastes from B&E.

Written by Blair Dowler and Patrick Gregg | Photographed by Alex Wilson

Whether it’s the holidays, a summer barbeque or anything in-between, camaraderie seems to be at its best around food and drink. On that happy note, we wanted to celebrate the B&E alumni who help bring us the savory, the sweet and the spirits.

They are the business graduates who have thrown their mad skills into the food and beverage industry, and we thought there would be no better way to usher in the fall and winter than to whet your appetite with the people who do that for a living. B&E alumni have channeled their business knowledge into an industry that is as tough as any, but demonstrate that there is little to them as rewarding. 

THE SAVORY

Belle Fete Catering

David Solsbee

Newport Beach, California  Solesbee Vinyards  Amissville, Virginia

DAVID SOLESBEE |  Finance, 1991

What entices a health-conscious stockbroker in Dallas, Texas, to enter the food and beverage industry? A niche that needs fulfilled. And that is just what David Solesbee did, co-founding Heaven’s Bistro Inc., a food manufacturing company based in Los Angeles that produced super-premium, low-fat frozen pizzas.

After years of success, Solesbee moved on. As a true Mountaineer with an entrepreneurial spirit, Solesbee paved a new road back to his cooking roots, as the 1991 B&E finance graduate launched Belle Fete Catering in Los Angeles and Orange County, California. 

“My mother is probably the greatest cook I’ve ever known. Not professionally trained, but she is a southern woman who has excellent cooking skills, so she always brought me into the kitchen and taught me how to cook as I was growing up,” Solesbee said. 

“Belle fete” is French for beautiful celebration, and Solesbee strives for each event catered by Belle Fete Catering to be just that. He and his team provide delicious, uniquely crafted and seasonally based, farm-fresh cuisine with superb service and artistic flare that adds a certain vibrancy to any occasion — weddings, cocktail parties, corporate events and beyond. A native of Manassas, Virginia, Solesbee says he takes great pride in using the freshest ingredients, which also allows him to connect with his southern roots. 

“I began sourcing from my parents’ farm and vineyard in Virginia. I often travel 3,000 miles home and bring suitcases of blackberries back with me. One of my signature dishes is the Virginia Blackberry Cobbler. It’s kind of my thing,” he said. “People often ask me, ‘What exactly is a cobbler?’ and I say, ‘It’s more of a country, southern thing, and it’s a pretty simple thing with just a few ingredients.’ It’s all about making an experience special for the client. Sourcing fresh ingredients and hand-crafting all the food has become my niche.” 

The fresh blackberries from his parents’ farm combined with a light, crispy cobbler crust and a scoop of cold ice cream is mouthwatering. But, Solesbee has also started using the fruit to create fruit wines. Solesbee and his father, David Solesbee Sr., are in the launch stages of Solesbee Vineyards. 

“We have 375 vines planted now and have numerous grape varietals and grape blends. At some point, we plan to build a tasting room, but right now we are still experimenting and perfecting the processes. The blackberries, blueberries and peaches grown on our properties make fantastic fruit wines, which will soon be offered with the catering services of Belle Fete,” he said. “But overall, Solesbee Vineyards has created a great fellowship among our friends and family. We’ll sit around talking philosophy about wine and grapes. It’s been a really great time, and I think there’s potential for great success in this business.”

Young and Stout Wholesale Meats and Provisions

Steven Stout

Bridgeport, West Virginia

STEPHEN STOUT | Accounting, 2013

Graduating with an accounting degree in 2013, A. Stephen Stout interned at an accounting firm and a local bank. But eventually, the family business called him home. Today, he runs Young and Stout Wholesale Meats and Provisions, a USDA meat processor and premium wholesale meats and cheeses distributor that operates in Bridgeport, West Virginia.

Stout’s great-grandfather and his business partner (Young) launched the company in 1942. After a few months, Young thought the business would fail, and Stout’s great-grandfather bought out Young’s half. The Stout family proved him wrong by building a successful business, passing it down through generations.

But there is bound to be change operating a 75-year-old business. Looking to the future for the wholesale meat operation, Stout sees a lot potential.

“There are a lot of small niche markets in this area. As crazy it sounds, the pepperoni roll, the hotdog and all the Italian cuisine around. That’s what drives us, the small niche things. You don’t find pepperoni rolls or hotdogs like we make them anywhere else,” Stout said. “So, if we can continue to find those niches, we will put ourselves in a better position to be more sustainable.”

Crab Shack Caribba

Bron Kayal

Morgantown, West Virginia

BRON KAYAL | Accounting, 2008 

How exactly does an accountant turn into a restaurateur? Ask Bron Kayal, a 2008 accounting graduate who came to the U.S. from India in 2001 to study. After graduation, he worked at Tetrick & Bartlett PLLC, a Clarksburg, West Virginia-based accounting firm. But in 2011, he purchased Coach’s Bar & Grill on Collins Ferry Road in Morgantown, and that is where this journey actually starts. He wanted something more unique, and he loved seafood. A lot. So, Kayal turned the bar and grill into Coach’s Crab Shack in 2013, and opened a second location at Cheat Lake in June 2015. The original location blossomed under the new business model, prompting him to completely rebrand his businesses. In November 2016, Crab Shack Caribba opened in Suncrest Towne Centre and the Cheat Lake location took on the new name as well.

As most restaurant stories go, there were some bumps in the road. In 2012, Kayal opened the Fondue Factory in downtown Morgantown — an unsuccessful venture. “The concept was wrong and the location was wrong,” he said. He successfully turned the restaurant into Morgan’s Diner in 2014 and sold it the next year.

“You know within six months if your restaurant is a go or not,” Kayal said. “With Crab Shack Caribba, we could tell from day one that this was something people were interested in.”

Now, a new location is planned for 2018-19 in Bridgeport, West Virginia. “I love seafood, but I was an accountant and I had to teach myself about the restaurant business. I’m very happy things have worked out.”

Lucca Ristorante

Joseph Jordan

Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania 

JOSEPH JORDAN | Finance, 1982 | MBA, 1983

To say that Joseph Jordan had a great start in the hospitality industry may be a bit of an understatement. As a busboy at the Daniel Boone Hotel in Charleston, West Virginia, Jordan was assigned to Elvis Presley each of two years when he visited the capitol city in the mid-1970s.

Fast forward to today, when Jordan is the owner of Lucca Ristorante in Pittsburgh. The 1982 finance undergraduate and 1983 MBA grad bought the Italian restaurant in 2000 with two other business partners who are now out of the picture, and the Charleston native’s restaurant thrives in the shadow of the University of Pittsburgh.

“All through WVU, I worked in the hotel and restaurant industry,” Jordan said. “In addition to the restaurant, I have worked for Delta Air Lines for 33 years. To this day, I still don’t know if Delta is my hobby or if Lucca is my hobby.”

Known as “Pittsburgh’s own Tuscany,” the restaurant features Northern Italian cuisine in an elegant setting. It also accommodates large groups and events, ranging from wedding receptions to post-workday gatherings and from bridal showers to wedding rehearsal dinners. Make no mistake about it — the restaurant is an icon on North Oakland’s eclectic Craig Street.

“I love the hospitality business,” said Jordan. “It’s fun being a WVU grad right in the heart of Pitt. Most of the time, I have the upper hand.”

Magnolia Manor Plantation

Larry Carver

Warrenton, North Carolina

LARRY CARVER | Management, 1972

For New Jersey native Larry Carver, a 1972 management graduate of B&E, and his wife Sheila, a Morgantown native and a WVU graduate in family resources, Magnolia Manor Plantation is in their hearts. Offering southern hospitality and the simple elegance of an authentic plantation manor house, Magnolia Manor Plantation Bed and Breakfast has become a destination wedding venue in the North Carolina Piedmont area. And any event there is known to be a delicious one.

“We prepare all the food on site,” Carver said. “We have a full commercial kitchen in the barn reception facility with an executive chef and kitchen staff. We offer two basic menus for the wedding receptions as a starting place. We can customize either of them, and the Southern BBQ is by far the most popular. The bed and breakfast food for our overnight guests is prepared in the Manor House residential kitchen.”

The Carvers acquired the manor house, which is listed on the U.S. National Register of Historic Places, and the adjoining 13 acres of land in June 1997. They opened Magnolia Manor Plantation in 2003, naming the house for the magnificent magnolia tree in the front yard. The property is painted with an orchard of 21 mature pecan trees, antique white oak trees and the John Watson House, built in 1815. The house remains part of the B&B, and much of the original stone foundation still exists.

Carver completed a long career with Nortel Networks and was a town administrator for two different small towns. Now retired, he helps his wife manage Magnolia Manor. “It’s a team effort of two WVU grads,” Carver said. “A very convenient mix of skills!”

Fresh Hospitality

Fresh Hospitality

DOUG VAN SCOY | Business Administration, 1966

MICHAEL BODNAR | MBA, 1970

Doug Van Scoy and Michael Bodnar are known for transforming the landscape of Morgantown with the 2015 construction of Evansdale Crossing at WVU, the student center located on Evansdale that includes six restaurant concepts from their Fresh Hospitality enterprise. 

“Since Mike and I are both in the hospitality industry, it gave us an opportunity to do something fairly unique and creative in that arena as well – and there is no place we would rather invest our time and money than here on this campus,” Van Scoy said. 

But the B&E alumni and Fresh Hospitality managing partners didn't stop there. In 2016, the restaurant entrepreneurs made their mark at WVU Health Sciences, opening three new food options – Hugh Baby’s BBQ & Burger Shop, Panini Pete’s Café & Coffee House, and Taziki’s Mediterranean Café. This new space, known as The Market at WVU, has spacious indoor and outdoor seating and offers healthy options to another area of WVU. 

Bowers Fancy Dairy Products

Michael Bowers

Eastern Market, Washington, D.C.

MICHAEL BOWERS | Accounting, 1986

Michael Bowers has been a cheese connoisseur his entire life. Born in 1963, he says he was essentially born into Bowers Fancy Dairy Products, as his grandfather opened the business in the Historic Eastern Market in Washington, D.C., in 1964 to serve the Capitol Hill community.

Specializing in cheeses from all around the world, Bowers Fancy Dairy Products provides a wide variety of dairy products that will suit even the most sophisticated cheese lovers.

At seven years old, Bowers went to work at the Eastern Market dairy shop, where he worked through high school and college. He entered the corporate world after graduating from WVU with an accounting degree in 1986, but he returned when the family business called.

“When my father passed away, it was easy to take up and run the business because of the skills I gained from my education and time in the corporate world,” said Bowers, who took over ownership in 2012. “I’d always promised the community here and my father and family that I would take on the business, so I did.” 

Carrying more than 400 cheeses like the “Mountaineer,” a long-aged, Alpine cheese with a complex flavor and a hint of butterscotch that melts on your tongue, the Bowers Dairy does not simply sell cheese. They educate consumers, providing recipes and advice on preparing delectable cheese boards for parties.

“We carry a lot of products that are difficult to find,” he said. “The people of the Capitol Hill community are very well traveled, and they tell us stories of foods and cheeses they’ve experienced in their travels. That’s translated into our business.”

The Sweet

chará hummus

Jennifer Kepple

Uniontown, Pennsylvania

JENNIFER KEPPLE | Finance, 2015

Jennifer Kepple knew she had a sweet tooth, but she didn’t realize she had the itch for entrepreneurship. This Parkersburg, West Virginia, native graduated as a double major in finance and mathematics in 2015, and is working full time at United Bank in Uniontown, Pennsylvania, as a treasury analyst. In 2016, she opened chará hummus, a dessert hummus business that has garnered the attention of a multibillion-dollar company that is one of the largest food service distribution companies in the United States.

“I definitely have a huge sweet tooth, but I also want to be reasonably healthy,” the 25-year-old Kepple said. “I started experimenting with healthy desserts as a student at WVU, and I’d make them for tailgate parties and things like that. My college roommates loved them, so I kept working on them. I had fixed a dessert hummus for my husband, who is also a WVU graduate, one night. He said, ‘Why don’t we sell this?’ And that was brilliant.”

The main flavors of chará hummus are chocolate chip, strawberry cheesecake and peanut butter banana, but she works on other unique flavors and even gets customer requests. She currently attends fairs and festivals and is working on the potential partnership.

“I would be a supplier for them and they would market my product,” she said. “They have specific guidelines and I’m working on meeting them. This is definitely an adventure for me, and it’s been a lot of fun.”

Cupcakerie

Anna Carrier

Morgantown, West Virginia

ANNA CARRIER | MBA, 2009

Anna Carrier graduated with a dual law degree and MBA from WVU in 2009. Today, you won’t find her in the courtroom, but in a downtown storefront in Morgantown, baking made-from-scratch, mouthwatering cupcakes as the co-owner of The Cupcakerie.

Carrier realized her dream of owning a cupcake shop while working as an associate at the local law firm, Hamstead, Williams & Shook. She met her business partner, Janet Williams, at the firm and they opened The Cupcakerie in 2011. The Cupcakerie is now a standout cupcake bakery and was named “Best of Morgantown” by Morgantown Magazine for six consecutive years.

“Janet and I talked about cooking and wine numerous times. That was our passion,” she said. “Baking was kind of on the side for our family and friends. All the big cities had cupcake shops, and we felt like Morgantown is growing so quickly and was in need of something like this. She and I thought we would be the ones to do it, and it turns out we were.”

Tutto Gelato

Sarah Straface

Morgantown, West Virginia

SARAH STRAFACE | Marketing, 2004 

When asked about her favorite gelato flavor, Sarah Straface, a 2004 marketing graduate and Morgantown native, doesn’t hesitate.

“Coconut gelato is the reason this place is here today,” she says with a grin. Straface fell in love with gelato during a study abroad trip in Italy and began to envision the café she might own one day. Then, in June 2007, she opened Tutto Gelato, a small walk-up spot in downtown Morgantown.

She spent five years at that High Street location, but the walk-up didn’t quite satisfy her Italian-style-café dream. So, in 2012, she moved Tutto Gelato to its current, larger location in Suncrest where she could start serving traditional Italian soups and paninis along with the gelato and espresso drinks.

“It’s really a family business. We all did research, bought a ton of ingredients and spent a day making sandwiches.” Straface said. “Our paninis are all named after cities in Italy. The food, the culture, the tradition – I think I was just born with it.”

All of Straface’s great-grandparents emigrated to the United States from Italy. Her family history and B&E’s emphasis on study abroad encouraged her to take that life-changing trip during her junior year. B&E also connected her with other entrepreneurs in the area to help navigate the challenges of opening a restaurant. She has grown the business and now you can find Tutto’s gelato and house-made pasta on the menu at other local restaurants.

“When you grow up in Morgantown, you bleed gold and blue. It’s a cool thing to own a business in my home state and my home city."

The Spirits

Abolitionist Ale Works

Mike Vance

Charles Town, West Virginia

MIKE VANCE | Accounting, 2011

Nestled in historic downtown Charles Town, West Virginia, is a brewery that abolishes the predictable and mundane when it comes to beer, while also paying homage to the town’s long history of abolitionists and the state of West Virginia – Abolitionist Ale Works. 

“My dream was always to bring good brewed beer back home,” said Mike Vance, a 2011 WVU accounting graduate. “We want to one day be synonymous with beer in West Virginia. We saw the need for more brewers in West Virginia, despite the great brewers already here. We just want to be among those leaders.” 

Vance and his brother, Josh, opened Abolitionist Ale Works in June 2017, offering a number of unique, flavorful craft beers brewed in-house and a simple food menu with eight artisan personal flatbread pizzas. 

“We focus on fun flavors, but flavors that actually work. Not just the same old cookie-cutter stuff you see in the beer industry,” Vance said.  

And his creations are anything but ordinary. Crafted with local ingredients and aged in wooden barrels, the craft beers have true West Virginia character, like the Blue and Gold ’n Delicious — a play on WVU’s colors. 

While Abolitionist Ale Works launched less than a year ago, Vance’s passion for brewing began much earlier. A former brewer at Morgantown Brewing Co., he said he began brewing around age 21.

“I began home brewing and did it under the name Front Porch Brewing for a decade or more. I enjoyed brewing beer to give out to people,” he said. “I still feel like a home brewer – a professional home brewer. That’s the mentality, and that’s how we’ll stay creative.”

Sharp's Hill Vineyards

Paso Robles, California

ROBERT SHARP | Finance, 1989 

After he earned his finance degree in 1989, Robert Sharp successfully worked in the financial services industry. But in 2006, this York, Pennsylvania, native and his wife, Pamela, took a bold leap into the wine business in the central coast region of California. They discovered and purchased Emboscada Ranch in historic Paso Robles and Sharp’s Hill Vineyards was born.

“As longtime fans of Paso Robles wines and winemakers, we were frequent visitors to this well-known region,” Sharp said. “Each trip was an adventure and only whet our appetites for permanence in Paso Robles. We said that we should open a winery when we retired.”

That all changed upon the sudden death of a family member. “That tragedy prompted us to do something we otherwise would have waited a long time to do,” he said. “We didn’t know anything about the wine business at all, so we relied heavily on advisors, and we employed a highly successful winemaker. The end result is something we’re very proud of.”

Sharp’s Hill is a large, boutique, estate winery that produced 3,000-4,000 cases of cabernet sauvignon and chardonnay last year. The chardonnay is the official white wine of the Dallas Cowboys, and a relationship with the Republic of Poland resulted in a private label for that country. In fact, Sharp’s Hill wines are used in all Polish embassies in the U.S.

“The four grape leaves on our label represent our four family members,” said Sharp, “keeping family close at heart and establishing new and lasting tradition.”

Penrose Brewing Company

Jim Lynch

Geneva, Illinois

JIM LYNCH | Marketing, 1984 

Marketing graduate Jim Lynch was an ultra-successful executive for PepsiCo for 32 years, so it should come as no surprise that he is pouring his love for beer and his vast business knowledge into a craft brewery that has taken off the for the stars. Lynch, now a retired senior vice president of supply chain who worked for Gatorade, Quaker Oats, Tropicana and Pepsi in the PepsiCo brand, is one of the four original partners in Penrose Brewing Company in Geneva, Illinois.

“I was a beer lover prior to the craft beer revolution in this country,” said Lynch, who earned his BSBA in 1984 and is a native of Pineville, West Virginia. He and his wife Lisa, also a WVU graduate, were on vacation in San Francisco when he had a craft beer with dinner. “From that point forward, I was all in on craft beers,” he laughed. “I thought, ‘Why can’t I, with my experience, give this a try?’”

When Lynch and his family were living near Chicago, he and one of his neighbors had the idea to start Penrose. That idea blossomed into a company that opened in 2013, and that company is projecting to brew 2,500 barrels this year.

“I’m using the packaging and processing experience I got with all of the PepsiCo companies,” he said. “And I really got to rely on my supply chain background. All facets of Penrose operations have really demanded that I tap into that knowledge.”

The company now has 12 employees, ranging from the taproom to brewers, and from packaging to event staff and salespersons. “I’m part of a craft brewery,” said Lynch. “Not many people can say that, and I’m passionate about it.”

Mother Shrub

Meredyth Walker Archer

Richmond, Virginia

MEREDYTH WALKER ARCHER | Management, 1984

Meredyth Walker Archer is surrounded by a family of artists. An entrepreneur, she is an artist herself, creating a delicious, unique product and business – Mother Shrub. Shrub, derived from the Arabic word “sharab” meaning syrup, is a drinking vinegar that is sweetened and infused with fruits and herbs. 

“Growing up in Charleston, West Virginia, I drank vinegar with my grandmother as a child. She was a big proponent of garlic and vinegar – the answers to everything!” Archer said. “About five years ago, I came across a recipe for fruit vinegar flipping through a vintage family cookbook, and began making shrub out of different fruits.”

And soon after, this 1984 management graduate introduced the tart and sweet shrub via fun cocktails to friends and family, who encouraged her to live out her dream. Thus, Mother Shrub was born.

“I was in sales for years and then helped people start businesses as a consultant. I realized that if I wanted to do this, I had to start following my own advice,” she said. 

Residing near Richmond, Virginia, Archer brews the numerous shrub flavors – cranberry, grapefruit, lime and more – in a local commercial kitchen. In 2016, Mother Shrub was named “Best New Overall Product” at the Virginia Food and Beverage Expo and is now available in some 40 retail shops across the country.  

“I do tastings to introduce it and teach people how to use it. So, if you already like a certain cocktail — say, gin and tonic — just add a splash of cranberry or lime shrub to that,” she said. “You can drink something interesting – alcoholic or non-alcoholic – without having to be too creative or have too many ingredients. That’s what I strive for.”

Big Timber Brewing Company

Matt Kwasniewski

Elkins, West Virginia

Matt Kwasniewski | Finance, 2008

Growing up working at his family’s sawmill in Elkins, West Virginia, timber is in Matt Kwasniewski’s makeup. 

Shortly after graduating with a finance degree in 2008, Kwasniewski needed a change of scenery and moved to Montana, where he met his wife, Ashley, and cultivated a passion for home brewing. But in 2011, it was a different timber and a dream that led the couple back to Elkins to open their own brewery, Big Timber Brewing Company. Partnering with his sister, Amber, and best friend, Sam Mauzy, they sold their first keg in May 2014 and opened the taproom that October. 

“We wanted to make approachable beers that were widely available to folks in the state,” he said. “We want to be a West Virginia brewery. We’re working to get to the point that when people think of beer in the state, they think of us.” 

The ruggedness of logging and purity of timber runs throughout the craft beer manufacturer’s brand from the wooden stools in the taproom to the seasonal brews like Double Bit, Forest Fest and Sluice. Big Timber’s Porter and IPA can be found on store shelves and their other varieties on tap in numerous restaurants and bars around the state. The Big Timber crew is currently working to open a newer, bigger production facility along the Tygart Valley River in Elkins. 

“My favorite part about this business is brewing a beer and it coming out exactly how I imagined. It’s the recipe-building and tweaking,” he said. “I also like seeing the products available. When we’re out at a restaurant and I hear someone order one of our beers, there are no words for that feeling.”