There Are Only 6 Female Executive Chefs In Charlottesville, Va. Think about that!

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Editor’s Note: This is episode two in a three episode Laura Fonner series.

There is a disturbing lack of female executive chefs servicing diners in Charlottesville, Virginia, especially since CVille has more restaurants per capita than every city in America except New York and San Francisco.

I can only count Six female executive chefs in CVille kitchens. That statistic startled me.

Laura Fonner, Duner’s Restaurant. Melisa Close Hart, Junction Restaurant. Jeanette Peabody, Oakhurst Inn. Shantina Hash, Tin Whistle Irish Pub. Robin McDaniel, The Alley Light. Kit Ashi, Monsoon Siam.

Who am I missing? Please let me know. I would love to include them!

I asked Laura Fonner, the pioneering executive chef at Duner’s Restaurant, about this on The I Love CVille Show powered by Greenberry’s Coffee at Barracks Road Shopping Center.

“The family life… [Being a chef] is not excellent when you have children,” said Laura, who’s a mother of three. “It’s a hard lifestyle because you don’t start at the top. You have to start at the bottom and work your way up. Sometimes you get halfway fucking there, and you’re like, ‘Uh-uh, I’m not doing it.'”

Laura routinely works 14-16 hour days at Duner’s. This past summer, Duner’s was down a dishwasher, so Laura would jump into the dish pit after dinner service and start cleaning dishes. Laura literally made and plated the food and then washed the dishes that the food was served on hours later. I have one word for this: BADASS!

As we all know, the restaurant category in CVille is crowded and competitive. While new restaurants are opening every month, others are closing and heading for bankruptcy. Duner’s has withstood the test of time in a saturated market despite some things working against it:

(1). The Duner’s dining room is really, really tight on space.
(2). It gets kind of loud inside Duner’s.

Regardless, Duner’s freakin CRUSHES IT! The front-of-the-house is on point and the back-of-the-house is consistent under Laura’s leadership. When you see the same faces at a restaurant year-in and year-out, you know something is working well.

“I try to make things you will never do at home. Why go out to dinner and have something you can do at home?” Laura said. “We try and go above and beyond. We just really care about the food. That’s all it comes down to. That’s how it has always been. Everything is from scratch at Duner’s. That’s why my days are so long.”

Editor’s Note: This is episode one in a three episode Laura Fonner series.

It’s Tuesday, August 12, 2014 on a humid evening in Ivy, Virginia. Laura Fonner is 30 years old. She’s the bartender at Duner’s Restaurant and she’s close to dying.

Almost 34 weeks pregnant, Laura waddles behind the Duner’s bar like an awkward penguin wearing two left shoes. Her belly bangs bottles. She’s getting dirty looks as she’s shaking cocktails.

“I was super pregnant,” Laura said. “Like I could sit your martini glass on my belly and serve it to you. I got some stink eyes for that.”

After Laura finished her bartending shift late Tuesday night, she left Duner’s and headed home. Exhausted and pregnant with her third child, Laura crashed in bed and woke up the next morning.

That’s when she almost died.

“Shit! My water broke,” Laura remembered. “Then, I look down and there’s blood everywhere.”

Laura lost two liters of her blood at home before she made it to the hospital. Her third child, a wonderful boy named, Parker, was born nearly 6 weeks early. He was not breathing.

“I had a complete placental abruption, which is extremely rare,” Laura said. “[Parker] was not breathing. … We both almost died during child birth. We were both deemed miracles.

“That [experience] was a huge eye opener for me. After I got over what happened, I sat there and I thought, ‘What am I doing with my life?'”

Laura had doubts because she was unhappy with her professional career. Laura climbed the kitchen ranks at Duner’s Restaurant from 2003-2012 from line cook to executive chef. She washed dishes, too. Hell, as a 14-year-old, she was making pastries at Blue Bird Cafe on West Main Street.

Then, in 2012, the long-time cook asked ownership for a front-of-the-house position (i.e. bartender) so she could have more consistent hours with her husband and two young children.

But something wasn’t right. Laura, a super Type A personality who loves to grind, scrap and learn, was not feeling fulfilled in the front-of-the-house.

“I knew I needed to be cooking,” Laura said.

When the executive chef at the time left Duner’s Restaurant, Laura returned to her role at the helm of the kitchen. That was November, 2016.

“I knew I needed to be cooking full-time again,” Laura said. “This is what I’m meant to do. This is what I’m good at.”

In “Episode One: Who Is Laura Fonner?” powered by Greenberry’s Coffee Co. and Pattie Boden at Animal Connection, we see what makes Laura Fonner a total ROCKSTAR and BADASS, including her rise to prominence as a chef, the tough balance between motherhood and being a cook, her third pregnancy when she almost died on the hospital bed and much, much more!

Enjoy this interview, guys. I certainly did!

If you liked this article, you might also enjoy Bill Chapman Responds To Hawes Spencer’s Comments: The Story Behind The Hook Newspaper In Charlottesville, Virginia and The Evolution of Three Notch’d Brewing Company: From 3 Dudes At McGrady’s Irish Pub To A Charlottesville, Va Craft Beer Icon!

At I Love CVille, we feature the best of Charlottesville, Virginia. You’re going to love the I Love CVille network.

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CEO Jerry Miller

Jerry Miller is the CEO of The Miller Organization, The I Love CVille Network, VMV Brands, The Blue Ridge Venture Fund and I Love CVille Real Estate, which are all headquartered in Downtown Charlottesville, Virginia. Jerry is passionate about the #ShopLocal movement and supporting locally-owned businesses. Get to know Jerry at JerryMillerNow.com.