One of Leesburg’s most unique historical assets is headed around the block to its original location.
The Town Council on Tuesday night voted 4-2 to award a new 20-year lease of the Mighty Midget Kitchen to Mom’s Apple Pie owner Avis Renshaw. It will be a return to its original setting following an almost 30-year absence.
Made from part of a World War II B-29 bomber, the Midget operated as a carryout restaurant from 1947 to 1994 at the intersection of East Market and Loudoun streets, where Mom’s Apple Pie now sits. After operations there ceased, the Town of Leesburg received title to the Midget and moved the structure into storage. The town issued a request for proposals for the relocation and use of the Midget, which was awarded in November of that year to Gordon MacDowell and The MacDowell Companies. A 20-year lease between MacDowell and the town was agreed upon in February 1996 at a rate of $10 annually. The lease expired in 2016. The Town Council never approved a new lease and there is no clause in the lease that dictated surrender of the structure.
At the Harrison Street location, the restaurant use was revived by Chef Brian Devaux, who operated a barbecue eatery from the small hut. From 2008 to the summer of 2019, the Midget served as the main kitchen for Döner Bistro when the restaurant was located at MacDowell’s Harrison Street property. Döner moved to a new location in the Virginia Village shopping center last summer, and the Midget has not been used since.
The council authorized town staff to issue an RFP for a new 20-year lease of the structure last June.
Renshaw made her interest known shortly ahead of the RFP issuance last summer. For her, the lease is the fulfillment of a promise. She recalled an encounter in her pie shop in 1998 with Herman Costello, whose wife previously ran the Midget.
“He said to me, ‘Get the Midget back’,” she recalled. “It wasn’t something I was thinking about at all, but it cued me up to look at it.”
In addition to fulfilling Costello’s wish, it’s meaningful for Renshaw for a number of reasons. Her father is a former B52 pilot, and she said she has enjoyed hearing stories over the years about area residents’ connection to the Midget.
“It’s meaningful to people and I just hope we can do justice by it, and make it a fun stop,” she said.
Renshaw said she plans to place the Midget on the concrete pad to the right of her storefront, where it stood for many years. While she has not finalized what the Midget’s menu offerings will be, she wants to focus on locally made, Loudoun County products. Mini sliders made with local beef or poutine made with potatoes from her Lost Corner Farm are some of her initial ideas.
She emphasizes that there are a lot of logistics that will go into moving the Midget and a lot of work that will need to go into getting its kitchen up and running again. In her RFP response last September, Renshaw noted that the Midget was not in good working order and needed to be brought up to Health Department standards. An extensive rehabilitation of the Midget’s interior and other work is expected, she said, which could run into the thousands of dollars. She does not expect the Midget to be up and running at its new, former location for at least six months.
The lease of the Midget will run Mom’s $50 a year, which was the minimum bid for the RFP.
Three proposals were received in response to the RFP, including one from MacDowell, who apparently offered a higher annual lease rate. Another came in from Scarps Breakfast Joint. A staff report notes that the recommendation to sign a lease with Mom’s was made because “from a historic preservation perspective, the proposal submitted by Mom’s will maintain Leesburg’s historic town feel” by returning the structure to its original location.
Council members Tom Dunn and Suzanne Fox were the only two council members to dissent on the vote to award the lease. Dunn asked several questions about the procurement process, which had several delays staff members attributed to holidays and the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. He suggested there was miscommunication between the staff and MacDowell that may have caused MacDowell’s proposal to be considered invalid when he did not verbally agree to an extension to the town’s deadline.
Both MacDowell’s proposal and the one from Scarps were not disclosed ahead of Tuesday’s vote because of a provision of the Virginia Public Procurement Act that allows proposal records to remain closed to public inspection until after award of the lease.