Friday, December 14th, 2018

S Shopper Stories


Great food, family and fun for almost 30 years

by Angela Slevin

Owner, BJ Baumann

Owner, BJ Baumann

I am the luckiest restaurant owner and operator on the entire east coast!” BJ Baumann declares. She is the proprietor of Rockafeller’s, a landmark restaurant with picturesque vistas of the charming homes and sea-crafts on Rudee Inlet.

Originally from south Georgia near Fort Benning, BJ has lived in Virginia Beach since 1980 and loves it here. She started out in the hotel and hospitality business, and in 1989 her husband Frank launched Rockafeller’s. He sadly passed away in 1999, and BJ has been operating the restaurant since then. Her children formed a tight-knit circle of support around their mother. Son Matt works in the business, and daughter Libi is a financial controller for a local foundation repair company. Ben, the youngest, is a sophomore at Virginia Tech and is very excited to have been accepted into their Young Entrepreneurs program. He’s studying marketing, and will soon bring his talents to the family business.

BJ’s pride in her children is clear, but there’s more. “Grandchildren are the bomb!” she enthuses as she shows off 15-month-old Sawyer’s photo. He is Libi’s little boy. “And, of course, he is the most special, the most perfect, the most beautiful child, ever!” the adoring grandmother continues.

Guests come in with their children...
and those kids often return as adults... with their own kids.
“Seeing the little ones grow up
and meeting their own children is so heartwarming.
It really makes that feeling of family
grow stronger with each passing year.”

—BJ Baumann

Located on Mediterranean Avenue near the Virginia Beach oceanfront, the restaurant has a beautiful view of water, boats and blue sky. The welcoming atmosphere is immediately felt, and the staff is attentive and friendly. Hand-blown clear blue glass lamps with flecks of opaque white, azure and green grace each booth and hang from the ceiling. “They were handmade by a young man in Berlin, Maryland on the Eastern Shore,” BJ remarks. She has an affinity for local artists and small businesses. Her hand-lettered chalkboards displaying the week’s food and drink specials are created by a local artist who has a studio on 19th street. “Watching him work is amazing! It’s all done freehand, and it’s different each time,” the restaurant owner points out.

The restaurant business is known for high turnover, but most of the staff at Rockafeller’s has been with BJ for 15 years or more. General Manager Brian Sutton was there when the doors opened, as was kitchen prep expert, Mel Claiborne. The establishment enjoys good year-round business with a strong military following that BJ greatly appreciates.

Oysters Rockafeller

Oysters Rockafeller

“I grew up near an Army base, but a Navy town is different,” BJ affirms. “I know the commitment to the Navy is from everyone in a family. There isn’t a family member whom it doesn’t impact. Being a single mom myself since my husband passed, I really have an appreciation for what the spouses go through.”

The upstairs banquet room has hosted many a celebration for occasions such as change of command, weddings, christenings, graduations and more. Up to 60 guests can be seated for dinner service, and the menu is extensive.

“I’m very happy to be able to provide year-round income to my staff. It allows me to keep high quality team members. I’ve been so fortunate -  it’s a luxury to have dependable people I can rely on,” BJ smiles. With her elderly parents in Georgia, she sometimes has to get away in a hurry, and she’s extremely grateful to her staff. 

Oysters are BJ’s passion. “My favorites  are Chincoteague, Seasides and Big Island,” she says. “Up until the last ten years, oysters were traditionally wild caught, but then oyster aquaculture took off. At that point, I started visiting oyster farms to learn about the techniques utilized in growing oysters. The fact that they filter as much as they do makes them environmentally friendly.”

 Rockafeller’s was the second restaurant in the state of Virginia to be certified green. BJ and her restaurant have been part of the Save Oyster Shells program to clean the Lynnhaven River since it began years ago. The recycled oyster shell reef has resulted in a significant improvement in water quality. Each oyster filters 50 gallons of water a day. “We felt a great deal of satisfaction the first time oysters for consumption were pulled out of the Lynnhaven River, knowing we had participated in bringing it back,” BJ says with a smile.

With oysters Rockafeller being the restaurant’s signature dish, she learns everything she can about oysters. When the City of Virginia Beach and chef and food educator Patrick Evans-Hylton heard about this, they started bringing in visitors who wanted to have the oyster experience and try different types of oysters prepared in different ways. For a generation of foodies, it’s opened a new world.

Rockafeller’s on Rudee Inlet has indoor and outdoor seating

Rockafeller’s on Rudee Inlet has indoor and outdoor seating

Guests at the restaurant favor the seafood gumbo with corn bread croutons. Rockafeller’s received the Best Stew Award at the MOCA’s Blues, Brews and Stews event this past November for the melange. Bacon wrapped barbecued shrimp can be savored as an appetizer or an entree. A very classic, purist jumbo lump crabcake is always a satisfying choice. Not in the mood for seafood? Fall-off-the-bone baby back ribs basted in their signature barbecue sauce or choice New York strip steaks that tantalize the taste buds are great options. The many local beer brews on hand pair well with oysters or anything else on the menu, and a Pinot Grigio from Barbersville, Virginia is just one of the wines offered. Or for a change of pace try a sparkling homemade blueberry soda made with honey and real blueberries.

Desserts at the eatery are all made from scratch by Mel, the dessert king. Whether one samples the carrot cake, coconut cake, Jamaican rum cake, Julia Child’s original recipe chocolate mousse, Key lime pie, or chocolate eclair pie, they are all absolutely delicious.

BJ is an avid traveler, and has visited far-flung places like Iceland and Mongolia in addition to most countries in Europe. She hopes to go to Antarctica next. Wherever she travels, a close group of friends are her constant companions.

What’s very special about Rockafeller’s is the generations of families who return month after month. Guests come in with their children to enjoy the great food and friendliness, and those kids often return as adults with their friends, and eventually with their own kids. BJ beams, “Seeing the little ones grow up and meeting their own children is so heartwarming. It really makes that feeling of family grow stronger with each passing year.”

Rockafeller’s Restaurant

308 Mediterranean Ave.
Virginia Beach, VA 23451