NEW BISTRO ON KING
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By Helen Mosher
Daily Staff Correspondent
STRASBURG - Donna Hupp may be new to the restaurant business, but she's no stranger to food.
Even better, she understands the relationship between food and community, and that's the backbone of her new eatery, The Bushel Basket. If the name is familiar, it may be because Hupp ran a farmer's market and co-op last year by that name. But a series of fortunate events over the winter led to Hupp deciding to open the restaurant.
So why the change?
"Oh, you know, it just sort of fell in my lap," she says airily.
In a way, anyhow -- she doesn't dispute that the practical aspects of opening shop were a little intimidating.
"But the space came available and it was the right time for me," she explains.
Hupp has admired the success of Cristina's Cafe and other local businesses touting a home-grown feel, and a trip to Asheville, N.C., last year further tickled her fancy to hang a shingle. And by opening a business, she thinks she can give back to the community in more ways.
The restaurant was a natural extension of what she already does, however. She's from a large family and married into another large family -- and guess who hosted all the big family dinners over the years?
"I come from a line of good cooks," she says, explaining that she's pretty much been catering for friends and family while raising her own children. "My mom's a great cook, as was my grandmother before her. I've compiled a couple of cookbooks for our family, and I read cookbooks the way other people read novels."
And as such, walking into The Bushel Basket, you might as well be arriving in Hupp's own kitchen. She draws heavily from Southern cuisine influences, noting Southern Living magazine and the Food Network's Paula Deen as a couple of favorite inspirations. (Don't look for fried food on the menu, though; she wants to offer healthier fare.) But family is at the core of everything she does; she truly appreciates the way a good meal can bring people together.
"When you think about it, every good memory revolves around a dinner table or a meal," she says.
Those close associations led to her appreciation for -- and commitment to providing -- homemade food. Her creative menu consists mostly of soups, sandwiches and a decadent lineup of desserts, all named after local landmarks, such as the Signal Knob Spinach Supreme Salad and the Valley Turnpike Turkey Wrap.
And what about the roosters? The birds are icons throughout the place. She laughs, noting that this is again an extension of her home kitchen décor -- and her henhouse. Having a rooster around, she says, is like having someone to announce the miracle of a new day each morning. And her hen, an Americana she raised from a chick, lays blue and green eggs.
"She just started laying a couple of weeks ago -- it's like a Christmas gift every day!"
The Bushel Basket is primarily a take-out operation because seating is limited in the cozy dinette -- just two tables indoors and a smattering of outdoor seating that she expects will get more use as the mercury rises and weather gets nicer. There's also a touch of retail space, jellies and baked goods from former vendors at her farmer's market, though not enough to house them all.
"I'd like to expand at some point," she says, for additional seating and more vendor space.
Hupp, a 25-year resident of Strasburg who "married into" the community after growing up in Woodstock, opened the restaurant just three weeks ago, and has been "overwhelmed" with support. She is looking forward to augmenting her regular lunchtime draw by attracting hungry tourists passing through and finding more catering opportunities.
"I think our art co-op and our antiques are a big draw, and we're a historic town," she says. "We need to promote our people and our local products. That's where the secret revenue is."
The Bushel Basket is at 136 E. King St., Strasburg. It is open Monday through Friday 11 a.m.-3 p.m. for lunch and on weekends only on festival weekends. The phone number is 465-9511.