The building's core structure was first laid about a decade after the Declaration of Independence was signed in 1776, and most recently had housed Tavern 1787. Brand hopes for great things from a great old place.
"I want it to be the coolest dining experience in America's coolest small town -- and yes that's a play on the whole 'coolest small town' thing," said Brand, who previously worked as assistant food and beverage manager at The Greenbrier Casino Club.
It's also one of the best places in Lewisburg to eat outside, he said. "A lot of people want to sit outside."
With a staff of about 30, Bella Casa is geared up to meet what comes. It came during the last Lewisburg Chocolate Festival, on April 9, when they seated and fed about 300 people that day. (A typical solid Friday or Saturday night can range from 160 to 210 people, Brand noted.)
The aim of the restaurant is to provide a democratic set of menu offerings to appeal to a wide set of tastes. "Great Italian food, steaks, chops and seafood -- there is a variety of items on the menu for anybody to be able to pick something and enjoy," he said.
As they moved toward their opening last winter, the owners first learned there was another business in town with 'Bella' in the name, Brand said.
"About a week after we decided to name it 'Bella Casa,' the owner, Donna, received an email from Tamera, who owns Bella. And Donna was like, 'Oh no, we don't want to name it that!'"
But Pence assured them that having two Bellafied businesses in Lewisburg "could be good for all of us," he said. "She had no problem with it, so we stuck with the name."
WHERE: 11 S. Lafayette St.
THE NAME: Named after Alice Stella Hirt, mother of the siblings who launched the restaurant.
Bella Casa and Stella's both lay claim to one of the nicest outdoor dining experiences in town. One of the siblings who launched Stella's even bought a very large outdoor fountain in Memphis, Tenn., and shipped it to Lewisburg, where it splashes away during the restaurant's lunch and dinner hours.
Stella's -- or Stella's Tea House, to give its full name -- is a family affair, even beyond the origin of the name.
"We opened in the end of January 2011," says Nancy Stewart. "The idea for the restaurant was our mother, Alice Stella. This is something she would have liked."
The inspirational matriarch of Stella's, who died 26 years ago, had five children. One day, all of them got together and her brother spoke up and said, "'Let's start a restaurant,'" Stewart recalled.
"And we thought, 'Oh, you're nuts.' But he just moves forward," she said.
Before long, this restored 1890s Victorian home had a "Stella's" sign out front, with a logo of a bird and a nest with five eggs, one for each sibling.
"And my sister decorated everything, and my sister-in-law, my brother's wife, came and helped her with that. It just evolved. And we're having so much fun, and it's doing so well," Stewart said.
All the rooms are christened with the first names of Alice Stella Hirt and her sisters, so, moving about the interior you will move among the Alice, Grace, Lula, Nelda and Ann rooms.
None of her brothers and sister had any restaurant experience, Stewart said, "so we just kind of made stuff up as we went along. It seems to be working."
Her sister, Tammy Perilli, is usually the face customers first meet, but Stewart, a US Airways flight attendant, was filling in this day. "She's the face of Stella's, and I'm behind the scenes going 'check-check-check!'" she said.
The menu focuses on American casual fine dining fare with dinner entrees ranging from dishes like grilled scallop and asparagus salad and curried lamb stew to a popular lobster pot pie.
For lunch, the fried green tomato sandwiches are popular, and the Sunday brunch offers gourmet renditions such as crab and avocado eggs benedict.
Depending on the hour and event, expect to see long gloves to khaki shorts on the clientele.
"We want people to feel comfortable coming in. Ladies love coming in dressed up -- we have a group of ladies who come and wear hats. They drag their gentlemen with them, and sometimes they're all dressed up, and sometimes they're in shorts and sneakers.
"So it doesn't really matter; there is no dress code," Stewart said. "But it gives you an opportunity. Mothers will bring their daughters in, and sometimes they'll have long gloves on and hats. It gives the girls an occasion to kind of get feminine."
The restaurant has a small garden that supplies some of the herbs and vegetables for menu items. Stella's strives to heed the farm-to-table call, using foods from area sources such as West Farms, Lindside Farms, Jeff's Breads, Kee Hill Farms and Westwinds Ranch.
A cellar space has been transformed into a small wine cellar, including a selection of ports and sparkling wines.
Customers sometimes ask about "Stella" and "her" house. "People think this was Stella's house, and we just lie and say, 'yeah,'" Stewart joked.
Don't believe her either when she pats the bust of a female head near the door, which looks suspiciously like a Greek goddess. "This is Stella, by the way.
"Well, it's not really her, but when we saw it we said, 'Isn't she pretty?'"
Reach Douglas Imbrogno at Doug...@cnpapers.com or 304-348-3017.