History is thick and rich in Roanoke’s Old Southwest neighborhood. The first grand dame neighborhood of the early railroad elite built sprawling mansions here and indeed one of the oldest houses in Roanoke, the Alexander/Gish House, is located here and still standing.
But it is a brick and mortar building at 1212 4th Street in Old Southwest Roanoke that has its own story to tell. A story of renewal and revitalization. And a story of love and dedication to make the building be infused with love and heavenly scents.
The building itself, was built in 1946 by a veteran returning from WWII who wanted to start his own business and to open a grocery store. Not just any ole grocery store but one of the first and largest of its kind. The mastermind behind the building’s construction decided that since a Quonset Hut style was good enough for the US Army, it would be good enough for him!
A step inside and the eyes are drawn to the still visible oak boards that brace the roof. Steel trusses, thick enough they look like they could have been designed for railroad bridges, span the expanse of the curved ceiling. The wooden floorboards underneath the feet sometimes squeak with age, but the light pouring in from the storefront windows can still bring a dash of nostalgia of when businesses looked this way and was the norm. Outside, the brick and mortar are freshly painted, but its easy to tell that the walls are old indeed.
In time the grocery store fell victim to the mass exodus of the 1970’s when the populace fled to the suburbs, deciding to leave wooden structures behind. In those years, the city razed many of the estate homes to make way for urban development. But, the houses and homes on the quiet tiny streets near Highland Park, stayed on and weathered the storm.
The building saw a few more businesses attempt success here, but nothing really stuck.
And so, in the mid-1980’s the building with the unassuming façade and storefront windows were shuttered and closed, the building remained empty. The city left it alone and it waited.
In 1991 Evie Edman and her partner, began Wildflour in the Towers Shopping Center. Known very quickly for her delicious and amazing cakes and desserts, Evie felt the need for a bigger place and a MUCH larger space for her bakery.
And in 1996 is when Evie saw what could be and saw the building with so much potential. The ceiling, the area that would be her kitchen. But most of all, the concrete downstairs with walls SO thick, it was rumored to be able to withstand a bombardment. Built by a veteran fresh from the war, it could possibly be true! And by the looks of it, it could doubly be true.
And there in the back, the original elevator that had been used to bring up and stock and supplies from the grocery store, still worked. And it continues to work today.
The restaurant would be upstairs and the bakery downstairs. She saw it perfectly in her mind’s eye.
It took them more than a year to turn the old 6,000 square foot building into their restaurant.
They kept the charm and the classic small-town edifice completely fronted with those windows. But just as she had envisioned, both the restaurant and bakery opened.
Since then, Wildflour has continued to serve as a touchstone for many Old Southwest denizens.
When the city decided a few years back to replace the Franklin Road bridge, a direct passage to Old Southwest was cut off from a majority of Roanoke and beyond. Like other businesses on that side of downtown, business dropped off and for a small moment, Evie wondered if it was time to move. Or do something else.
But no, her life and her passion were embedded in those oak plank ceiling boards, in the milky whitewash of the thick masonry blocks of the bakery below.
So, with a little dreaming, a little planning, a little coaxing, Evie saw a new beginning for her beloved 1212 4th Street Building. And it was time for a new name, too!
In April 2019, the plans started taking fruition and it was then the seed of “Evie’s Bistro and Bakery” began to sprout. Her new logo speaks volumes about the woman herself; stylish, classy but with a sense of history and includes her favorite flowers, poppies.
The menu remains mostly the same, including old favorites that have been on her menu since the 1990’s. If you’re lucky enough to go to the ladies’ bathroom at the right time of day, you’re greeted with the scent of whatever divine pastry they are cooking below. And ALL their baked good are made right there, just an old freight elevator ride away.
And speaking of Evie’s famous cakes, she figures that over 28,000 cakes have walked out the doors. That’s a lot of sugar and chocolate (seriously, you must try the Better Than Sex Chocolate Cake).
The logo has changed. The color of the paint, both inside and out has changed as well. The décor has taken on the ambiance of a fun eclectic French bistro, which is new. The windows are tinted, the heating and AC updated as well. A sparkling crystal chandelier hangs from the ceiling and a gold 10-speed bike is perched over a door.
But the ambiance? The same warm, comfortable feeling as always. Inviting to come in and just enjoy your meal or a slice of cake with coffee. Or, perhaps sip a delicious glass of wine or cocktail.
The food? From the very beginning, it has been Evie’s goal to offer Roanoke a restaurant that emphasized unique dishes made with whole foods and original recipes. More importantly, she wanted to be responsible for everything the restaurant made – from salad dressings and soups to breads and desserts. It beckons to the rest of the valley with a broad array of delicious food that can soothe the soul with flavor and ease the conscience with fresh whole foods and ingredients.
It’s a place where you can bring a date. It’s a place where you bring your entire family. It’s a place where you can sit at the cozy little tables by the windows and watch the city go by and feel absolutely wonderful about it.
Evie’s Bistro and Bakery; where fabulous flavorful food, delicious desserts and great friends awaits. They’ll make sure to keep a slice of cake waiting for you.