Another New Town Business Closes

January 30th, 2010 by Amber Lester
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A cardboard cutout of Marilyn Monroe still stands in Cheeburger Cheeburger. The space will be vacant by Monday.

Cardboard cutouts of Marilyn Monroe and The Three Stooges were piled against the glass at the front of Cheeburger Cheeburger on Friday. One man stood on a ladder, tearing metal moulding off the walls.

Teal padded chairs were piled everywhere and in a corner near the entrance, a cutout of Humphrey Bogart watched the dismantling of the restaurant.

Cheeburger Cheeburger closed its doors Monday, and owner Steve Touchstone has spent the week auctioning off equipment, donating food to the food bank and arranging for fans to come pick up the remaining boxes of T-shirts.

On Friday, Touchstone wore a blue Cheeburger Cheeburger shirt as he worked to clean up the space. He has until Sunday to tie up any loose ends in the restaurant. Next week, the company he co-owns with his in-laws will file for bankruptcy.

Cheeburger Cheeburger joins a growing list of New Town businesses that have closed up shop in the past six months. Since late 2009, Old Navy, J. Jill, Z Pizza and Great Harvest Bread Company have closed their doors. Touchstone said all the business owners and managers in New Town talk and everyone is nervous. Cheeburger Cheeburger’s business had been declining for nine months.

“I was looking forward to a summer that never materialized,” he said. “The tourists never came, the families stopped spending money.”

When Cheeburger Cheeburger opened in New Town in 2005, it was one of more than 20 restaurants in the mixed-use development. But Touchstone said the restaurant market in Williamsburg is oversaturated and many developments, such as High Street and Settlers Market, are only signing restaurants without adding any retail to help generate foot traffic. “It’s not a good forecast for Williamsburg,” he said.

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Workers spent Friday removing metal moulding from the walls of the restaurant.

Touchstone believes it could be easier to do business in New Town if rents could be renegotiated to reflect the poor economy. He said the leasing agency that handles New Town, Shor Real Estate, refused to lower rents. Touchstone said at different points during his ownership, the leasing company would tell him all the other restaurants were doing well and any problems he experienced were unique to his business. When Z Pizza closed in November, it was clear that wasn’t the case.

Nathan Shor, president of Shor Real Estate, had no comment.

“We looked at trying to move the store. We tried to find a buyer or find a partner. We had 20 parties who were interested,” Touchstone said. “But the people with the cash and the means to do it don’t trust the economic stability of this area.”

Touchstone and his father-in-law/partner Coy Saul decided December’s performance would determine the future of the restaurant. A snowy weekend and fewer retail options kept shoppers out of New Town over the holidays and in mid-January, the hot water heater died. The business had to close for four days and the repairs cost around $500. That was the “knockout punch,” Touchstone said.

Cheeburger’s problems didn’t begin when the economy started to decline, however. The franchise decided to open a location in Williamsburg in 2005 and after a rocky start, approached Touchstone to take over. Touchstone has worked with the company for six years, starting first in its three Richmond locations. He had heard rumors about the Williamsburg restaurant and thought he could tackle the challenge of turning the business around.

“Imagine the worst restaurant experiences,” he said of the rumors. “I heard stories in Richmond, but I thought they were made up.” Among the rumors he heard: uncooked food was served and staff smoked marijuana in the back of the restaurant.

With Saul, Touchstone invested in the restaurant and became the owner/operator in 2007. The first 18 months were good, he said. But the summer of 2008 didn’t bring as many tourists and families in and 2009 was “in the tanker,” he said.

“We can’t keep pouring money into this. If we had, we would have lost homes,” he said. Any money he received from auctioned equipment goes back to his vendors and his father-in-law. They aren’t considering the restaurant a failure because if they had stayed, it could have been much worse, Touchstone said.

Touchstone’s biggest fear was letting down his employees. He had 42 at the restaurant’s peak; as of Monday, he had 22. The restaurant didn’t have any layoffs prior to its closing, but vacant positions were frozen. His five full-time employees have mostly landed on their feet, however. Some have been hired at other area restaurants, such as Buffalo Wild Wings, the Trellis and the Baker’s Crust.

“Everyone was paid in full. That’s one thing I’m proud of. I made a commitment to these kids when they came to work for me,” Touchstone said. “What kept me up at night was making sure they were OK.”

As for his own future, Touchstone isn’t worried. He hopes to spend more time with his family before exploring other opportunities. If he does open a restaurant again, it will be in a less saturated market. “I’ll look to fill a niche that’s not occupied,” he said. “But I’m going to work for someone else for a little while.”

31 Responses to Another New Town Business Closes

  1. Anonymous

    January 30, 2010 at 1:40 pm

    The reason this restaurant closed can’t be placed entirely on the economy. We stopped going there over a year ago because of the terrible service we received. After Five Guys opened at High St., there was even more reason to stay away. People will go to your restaurant if you provide a good product and good service. Unfortunately, Cheeburger-Cheeburger was lacking.

  2. Anonymous

    January 30, 2010 at 3:02 pm

    I have to disagree with newtownerresident…my family and I had many repeat wonderful experiences at Cheeburger. The server we had the past couple of times remembered us and was truly awesome. The food was great and the ambience entertaining. I’m very sad to hear that they’ve closed. 🙁 I will seriously miss the Frings.

  3. Anonymous

    January 30, 2010 at 3:32 pm

    Very sad to hear this. It was a fun and happy place, with good food and friendly service. Too bad the leasing agency wouldn’t negotiate rents in consideration of the economy. Now there will be a vacant storefront and NO rent. No one wins. Best wishes for the future to Mr. Touchstone and his staff.

  4. Anonymous

    January 30, 2010 at 3:43 pm

    what a shame this is! and with more stories like this coming every day – we as a community need to do something about james city county allowing another shopping center to be built on monticello ave across from trader joes – we cant support what we currently have – we do not need any more!

  5. Anonymous

    January 30, 2010 at 3:57 pm

    I am sorry to learn of Cheeburger closing. My experience was friendly staff and good food. Touchstone has been a good friend to several non-profits… even when the restaurant was experiencing difficulties. I appreciate his commitment to the community, and wish him, his family, and his employees well.

  6. Anonymous

    January 30, 2010 at 5:37 pm

    i certainly had nice visits there with my grandchildren and thought it very nice to have a “Children Friendly” place to go.
    Might have been wiser for the Landlord to have lowered the rent a bit.I would like to hear his views.

  7. Anonymous

    January 30, 2010 at 5:40 pm

    I’m really not surprised cheeburger closed. I went there twice and was never impressed. service was slow and unprofessional and the the food was definitely lacking. After 5 guys opened up I knew I’d never go back to cheeburger.

  8. Anonymous

    January 30, 2010 at 5:50 pm

    We agree with K Copes and J Huelskamp. Cheeburger Cheeburger was one of the highlights of Newtown for our family. We never had a bad experience there. But I think we all share a small part of the blame. We should have seen this coming. Before Newtown, the biggest complaint from parents of teenagers was, “there’s no place for my kids to go.” Williamsburg has no “mall”, per se, so Newtown sort of became the hang-out for unchaperoned teens. I don’t think that’s what the development company had in mind for their high-end shopping area. Still, they own the lion’s share of the responsibility. Lower rent would have been better than no rent at all. With the opening of the Movie Tavern area, and Cheeburger going under, now there’s even less enticement for families to visit Newtown.

  9. Anonymous

    January 30, 2010 at 5:58 pm

    What a shame. Cheeburger Cheeburger was one of the highlights of Newtown for our family. We never had a bad experience there. Admittedly, the service was slow, but the food and friendly environment more than made up for it. I must admit that we should have seen this coming, though. Before Newtown, the biggest complaint of parents of teenagers was, “there’s no place for my kids to go in Williamsburg.” Williamsburg has no mall, per se, so Newtown sort of became the hang-out place for unchaperoned teens. I don’t think that’s what the development company had in mind for their high-end shopping area. Still, they own the lion’s share of the responsibility. Less rent would have been better than no rent. Now, with the opening of the Movie Tavern area, and with Cheeburger going under, there’s even less enticement for families to visit Newtown.

  10. Anonymous

    January 30, 2010 at 6:31 pm

    I wish Mr. Touchstone, family, and his staff the best of luck. Too bad the leasing company would not lower the rent to keep a good tenant. We will sincerely miss this restaurant. It was one of our favorites. Great food, great service, kid friendly. I don’t enjoy 5 Guys even half as much as I do Cheeburger Cheeburger!

  11. Anonymous

    January 30, 2010 at 7:23 pm

    Shame on the landlords! Since they don’t want to lower the rent for the time being, they are looking to lose more money. My family always enjoyed going to Cheeburger & whenever we had family from out of town, they did too! 🙁

  12. Anonymous

    January 30, 2010 at 7:29 pm

    We frequently would go to an early movie and lunch at Cheeburger. We will really miss an enjoyable experience. We always had nice servers. 50’s burgers, 50’s style, 50’s music. Too bad. Also, there goes my 30% coupon down the drain – now it is a donation. Leasing agency is not very smart. Some money coming in is better than none.

  13. NANCY KOWALESKI

    January 30, 2010 at 8:04 pm

    🙁 I am so sorry to see Cheeburger close. Steve Touchstone went above and beyond to help many nonprofits in the community. I will miss the monthly get-togethers with the PASHN supporters, and we will all miss Cheeburger! Thank you Steve for trying to make a difference!!

  14. Anonymous

    January 30, 2010 at 9:41 pm

    I am sad for the owners of the business, I do not wish ill will on anyone. However, I do not think it is any suprise this place went out of business and this further proves the point that the Williamsburg area has become inundated with businesses that the residents cannot support.
    With situations like this building, we are at a very critical crossroads for this area. Do we plan to bring in more residents to match the commercial growth of the area, or do we control commercial growth and rein in poor planning and help stabilize the local economy? I personally think the answer is clear, and we stop the unnecessary development.

  15. Anonymous

    January 30, 2010 at 11:24 pm

    Cheeburger was so much better than 5 guys: No selection. It will be sadly missed.

  16. Anonymous

    January 30, 2010 at 11:55 pm

    To anyone who has purchased a Save30 gift certificate for this store: You should have received an email from Save30 customer service with instructions for receiving credit for Cheeburger Cheeburger certificates. If you did not receive this email, please send an email to barbara@tideradio.com and include your name and the Save30 certificate number that appears in the lower left-hand corner of any unused certificate. Barbara will then provide you a credit equal to the purchase price to use on future Save30 Store purchases. No reason for our Save30 customers to be doubly disappointed.

  17. Anonymous

    January 31, 2010 at 1:41 am

    as a fellow business owner in NewTown, I can corroborate all the negatives in this story. It ASTOUNDS me that this place, which fashions itself the latest iteration of ‘new urbanism’ would be doing what it is doing. I, too have asked for some help in our rent and have been told NO. I have asked for a sliding scale, to help now and then get back to where it is when it grows, I get NO…..the owners/managers/agents of NewTown either believe incorrectly that all is immune here, or they have some other plan in place to in effect bankrupt the entity. It is to opposite of why we came here and it is horrible to see.

  18. Anonymous

    January 31, 2010 at 1:02 pm

    i definitely agree that there are too many businesses for the williamsburg area to sustain. i lived in newtown for over a year and NEVER once stepped foot in to cheeburger. not for any specific reason. i just always had other places i ate. i’m sure it was a great restaurant and i’m sad to see new town lose another business, but the city really needs to think before they continue to build any more. and to the people who said maybe newtown wasn’t happy to see all the teenagers there, i’m sorry if newtown ever gave you that impression. i loved driving through and seeing all the kids and families walking and using the area. i hope to continue to see more teenagers there! they’re paying customers just like anyone else!

  19. Anonymous

    January 31, 2010 at 3:18 pm

    It’s sad. I feel for the businesses operator in New Town. They had such high hopes and I wish they were more successful.Between the economy and the unusual weather this year it’s no wonder they failed. One can’t completely blame the previous president for such a downturn. But as long as Obama remains in the highest office in the land you can expect more disappointments.

  20. Anonymous

    January 31, 2010 at 5:48 pm

    Man, such a shame. We loved that place and ate there often. It was the first restaurant we ever took our daughter out to! I second (and third and fourth…) the other people’s opinions about “no rent < lowered rent", especially if you consider what this will do to traffic in general. I wonder how many other businesses will fail in part because Cheeburger is gone. Coco, Maggie Moo's?
    Good luck in your next endeavors, Steve Touchstone!

  21. Anonymous

    February 1, 2010 at 12:23 pm

    Newtown has many problems.

    1. Not enough parking close to stores
    2. Open Air Shopping in bad weather
    3. Not teen friendly
    4. Rents that are outrageous $30.00 per foot to start
    5. Lame National retailers
    6. Too Many Restaurants
    7. Not enough population to support it
    8. Food too expensive $30 for pasta?
    9. Food is generally bad, no money put into staff, all goes to rent
    10. Traffic on Monticello is terrible
    11. It’s becoming a police state
    12. Too much redundancy in business’s. Multiple burger joints, pizza joints, coffee houses
    13. Confusing traffic patterns
    14. Terrible visibility for most businesses
    15. Looks like plastic movie set, ugly
    16. Too many chains in a Mom and Pop town!

  22. Anonymous

    February 1, 2010 at 2:11 pm

    Folks, as locals I think we are missing the point. It has little to do with growth or how good the food/service was. Mr. Touchstone has said it all, listen to his words. “I was looking forward to a summer that never materialized,” he said. “The tourists never came, the families stopped spending money.” The tourists never came!!! If we can just fix the tourism issue. We can solve most of our problems. Taxes,schools,retail,etc. Until the citizens start demanding that elected officials produce a better ROI with our tax dollars that they spend on tourism, this won’t be the last business that will close its door, and that is truly sad.

  23. Anonymous

    February 1, 2010 at 3:08 pm

    Sure did like Cheeburger Cheeburger.

    I also agree with the rent thing… I can’t understand by Commercial real estate prices are so high. It’s ridiculous.

  24. Anonymous

    February 1, 2010 at 3:32 pm

    Brett, Government is NOT responsible for private business. You write about the WADMC and the WHMA constantly, to no avail. The fact that a MAJORITY of rooms in the area are not in the WADMC speaks volumes. The leadership of this organization needs to face reality on many issues, some of the hotels/motels have never re-invested in their property, some lack amenities of their new competition, time shares, some rent top people by the month and lose control of the property (see trip advisor). I believe your property was slated to be a time share operator. If you include all time share rooms, is the number of tourists here the same or greater than before? Do the numbers of Smith Travel include rooms that are not in the WHMA? The answer is no. We had an increase in room occupancy this past December. Why? Well it was because of one of the attractions you seemingly criticize the most, Busch Gardens. The Christmas Town attraction was a huge hit for the area in its first year, even with bad weather. How much money outside of the $2.00 room tax does the WHMA provide for advertising? I wish the government allowed me to collect a tax to advertise my business. The issue with Newtown is not tourists, it’s not a tourist location, it’s built for locals with its new urbanism layout of residential and commercial. It like hotels has been overbuilt, in this case restaurants. I find it hard to believe people still open restaurants in a saturated area, and that several hoteliers built new hotels and added room inventory in a maxed out market. This statement of being maxed out was made by your very precious Smith Travel years ago. Let’s face it, the market is saturated and can’t absorb anything else with the current levels of population and tourists. It’s simple supply and demand economics. I don’t for a minute believe there is a vast government conspiracy to prevent positive economic growth. The area has too many critics, what it needs is a willingness to work together without fear of public humiliation if a group doesn’t get its way all the time.

  25. Anonymous

    February 1, 2010 at 4:28 pm

    I agree with the above comments. Our recent commercial development has been absurd, with no real growth of population and residents to support it. It is going to get much worse before it gets better!

  26. Anonymous

    February 1, 2010 at 6:04 pm

    This is worse than I thought. The situation with Newtown is getting out of control. My wife works in Newtown and her hours are getting cut. So nobody is exempt from what is going on. Here are my observations:

    1. Rent is too high at NewTown, this realty company better lower it now. I encourage the residents (I will do this too) to tell them to lower the rent for the good of themselves, business owners, employees, and residents.

    2. The market is over developed. I think everybody knows this. A couple reasons here:

    First people overestimated the growth potential of the Williamsburg area.

    Second, there are three jurisdictions in this town. You got James City County, Williamsburg city, and York County. All of them wanted a piece of the pie, hence the overdevelopment. I can’t imagine the new retail area with Super Target, Dicks, Best Buy, etc. is doing well either. Probably not.

    3. Williamsburg is too dependent on good weather. Everything here is outdoor based. If it’s cold then it’s dead. Williamsburg in July compared to January is two different cities entirely.

    I like this town a lot…well for the most part. But the winter months REALLY REALLY stink here though. And money that I would spend going out to eat I have to spend on the heating bill now.

  27. Anonymous

    February 2, 2010 at 4:50 am

    Dear Say What,
    I feel the need to help you understand the facts. 1. Hotels and restaurants are exclusively required to collect a tax that the counties are required by law to spend 60% on tourism, the city also requires this tax collection but does not have to spend the $$ on tourism.
    1a. There are more hotel/motels that belong to the WHMA than belong to the Chamber of Commerce. WHMA is well over 50%. The Chamber is considerably under.
    2. 100% of hotels in the historic triangle are required by law to collect the $2 tax, give it to the cities or the counties who then give it to WADMC to spend. 3. Williamsburg like every other tourist destination in America has new hotels, old hotels, cheap hotels, expensive hotels, B&B’s, timeshare, extended stay and so on.4. Smith Travel collects data in over 600 markets in the U.S. It does not count timeshare data in any of its calculations, so when we compare data with other destinations, we are comparing apples to apples. 5. For the first time in over a year in the month of december occupancy increased from 21% to 25%. Mostly due to Christmastown at Busch Gardens, which I have rarely criticized if ever.
    6. The problem with your idea to tax and advertise your business is that you would not get to advertise your business. A group of people with no clue about your business would tell you how they are going to advertise your business and they would do it in a way that helps theirs the most.
    7. Why would the WHMA contribute any money to WADMC. THe membership already contributes most of the funds thru the $2 tax.8. WHMA is funded entirely by members and receives no tax $$, yet endures the most criticism from ill-informed people like you. WADMC/MRTF,CHAMBER,CW,JYF, all get boatloads of taxpayer cash, with truckloads of praise and not a hint of scrutiny.
    It is really quite simple. Follow the money and who controls it. Those are the people that have failed. Look at the real numbers. CW attendance will likely come in the lowest it has in DECADES. Hotel revenue will come in at its lowest point since the 80’s. Our destination has one of the lowest occupancy rates in the nation. It’s not WHMA,timeshare,old hotels,overbuilding,restaurant,retail,or the weather’s fault that tourists decide not to come here like they used to. This destination and tourism could and should support a vast majority of the business that is here now. If our leaders and the powers that be had done a better job of promoting our destination to the masses We would not be in the mess that we are now. The economy was tipping point we have been failing for years. They did a poor job and now many of us are suffering. We are mad about it and we would like for things to change direction. Or we could keep doing what we are doing and we will sure enough see a change around here and it ain’t gonna be pretty, and I promise you if the hotels ever get their way, there will be wholesale changes made. IF WE COULD ONLY GET THAT LUCKY!

  28. Anonymous

    February 2, 2010 at 1:14 pm

    Brett

    You really believe that the WHMA pays for advertising through the $2.00 room tax? The customers pay the tax, and only with the permission of the Virginia General Assembly. The tax had a sunset clause, one that goes to show the government never gets rid of a tax. The operators of the hotels in WHMA do little if any advertising of their own. They live off the national advertising campaigns of Busch and CW. I saw a CW advertisement last evening, it was very good. Where was your companies?

    Do you realize the Country is in a deep recession? Do you realize nationally that tourism everywhere is down? Do you realize that Williamsburg numbers in the last year were down, but not as bad as those in other areas of Virginia, or for that matter the Country?

    The room tax is being monitored by people with little to no experience in doing it. Blame that on the fact that the GA didn’t set up a good system in setting up a tax with a sunset at the time. It should be re-visited, and set up with professionals running the show, not unqualified hoteliers, or politicians.

    Didn’t WHMA have the exclusive on the booking engine for the WADMC? Didn’t they exclude many who collected the tax from their booking engine? Was that fair and ethical? Should the WHMA re-imburse those they omitted for 5 years? Weren’t the numbers terrible in booking? Didn’t you have untold complaints about the engine? Didn’t the booking engine go down for weeks at the height of the season? Didn’t it go down again this fall? Isn’t it true that the WADMC wasn’t notified in either case ?

    You do have more hotels in the WHMA than the Alliance has, but doesn’t the Alliance represent more rooms by a considerable amount? Haven’t you lost many members in WHMA including Great Wolf Lodge and CW properties ? Which collects more in the room taxes, the WHMA group or those in the Alliance? Figures lie and liars figure.

    Didn’t the hotel industry request the $2.00 room tax for advertising? Why are they now trying to end it?

    What would this market be without CW or Busch Gardens? Would you be here if they weren’t? For that matter what would this region be without these major entities? You and others in your group are constantly critical of CW, and yes Busch, complaining that Busch markets to day trippers, don’t they advertise with millions of dollars outside their contributions to WADMC? Does the WHMA do the same? You have more properties as you point out, shouldn’t you advertise more? Or is the added tax all you care to advertise for? Don’t the localities donate much in kind staff time? Doesn’t Busch and CW donate staff time of professionals to the MRTF?

  29. Anonymous

    February 2, 2010 at 8:30 pm

    New Town is greed fulfilled. May it dissolve and revert back to the wonderful field it once was. Such a pleasure to drive by. Now, just an ugly monstrosity with extra traffic, lights, noise and now, vacant buildings. Karma at last.

  30. Anonymous

    February 2, 2010 at 9:55 pm

    Say What,
    If the customer pays the tax then why doesn’t Historic Jamestown or Yorktown Battlefield volunteer to collect $1/ticket and give it to WADMC as a donation? The customer pays right? Why don’t all of the Attractions do the same?

    But I digress.

    I have changed my mind. You are right. If the hoteliers would just quit being so difficult and get on board with the rest of the team, donate more money to WADMC, work to condemn these old hotels, run these timshares out of town, demand that the counties and city give more money to the Chamber and CW and all of the other benevolent organizations. Then maybe people like you would be so gracious as to invite us commoners to worship at the altar of the Historic Collaborative and through their grace and guiding hand, show us the way to prosperity and eternal wisdom, and with any luck the cheeburger cheeburger will rise again. 8)

  31. Anonymous

    February 2, 2010 at 10:47 pm

    My point is made. Thank you. You digress to the point of not even attempting to answer one question.

    No one ever said give more money to the WADMC, just said do some of your own advertising like everyone else does.

    So now yet another new tax, an entertainment one this time. It is amazing that you think that will cure all. These attractions already spend millions on advertising the area.

    The sarcasm is really typical of someone in over their head in a debate, and many of you do it, all too often. I think you should rationally sit at the table, offer clear suggestions, not always request more money for a new Nichols report, or new tax, or additional advertising and work to a better community. You have had advocates in the community, many of them in fact. It most unfortunate that you ran them off with positions of no compromise. And stop hearing or reading just what you want to, and listen once in awhile. If you disagree it doesn’t make anyone a bad person, and it shouldn’t make you disagreeable. A good healthy debate is needed, not more name calling and acrimony.

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