By: CATHALIJNE ADAMS
Several University of Mary Washington alumni seized the opportunity to contribute to the Fredericksburg business community, opening The Sunken Well Tavern, The Otter House and Bistro Bethem just a few miles away from their alma mater.
Steve Cameli and Paul Stoddard first opened The Sunken Well Tavern in 2006, and in 2009 they opened The Otter House.
Cameli graduated in 2003 with an undergraduate degree in political science and Stoddard graduated in 2001 with a bachelor’s of science in business administration.
Through their time together at UMW, Cameli and Stoddard worked in restaurants such as Wings on the Water, Fatty J’s and Bistro 309.
Cameli said that his studies at Mary Washington gave him a diverse set of skills that prepared him to be a business owner.
In starting their first restaurant, Cameli and Stoddard turned to loans from their parents for their start-up capital.
Though the recession began at the time they began their business venture, they have been successful, Cameli said.
As a city, Fredericksburg is “rapidly changing and growing every year,” Camleli said, pointing to the increasing number of corporations coming into the area.
Cameli and Stoddard remain tied to UMW, and in 2008, they began accepting EagleOne Cards at The Sunken Well Tavern.
Aby Bethem, who graduated in 1999 with a Bachelor of Science in business administration, opened Bistro Bethem with her husband, Blake Bethem, in 2004.
The couple had worked in Bistro 309 and managed it together before they decided to buy and rename the restaurant.
“The opportunity was right in front of us,” Bethem said.
Bethem feels that her degree from UMW helped her succeed in the restaurant business.
“I do feel that my degree gave me confidence, maturity and some accounting skills that directly attribute to my day to day business dealings,” Bethem said.
The university continues to play a role in Bethem’s life. She employs UMW students and hosts university events such as Discovery Days, new student orientation, Parents’ Weekend, graduation and the Frederickburg Forum.
In reflecting on the time that has passed since she was a student at UMW, Bethem remarks that not much has changed with the exception of Route 3 shopping and traffic.
Despite the arrival of Central Park on the Fredericksburg map, downtown Fredericksburg retains its neighborhood closeness, according to Bethem.
Bethem pinpoints this sense of community as the reason she and her husband have focused their business on downtown.
“The type of people and small town feel are important to us,” Bethem said.
Bistro Bethem is currently contemplating an expansion in the Fredericksburg area, though there are still no immediate plans.
Bethem said that the potential second location would focus on more “quick, casual, inexpensive fare.”