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Entrepreneurial Spirit Alive and Well at the Courtyard Concert Cafe

By Thomas Brawley

Since January of 1997, Jeff Cummins, B.M. Piano Performance '91, has found himself in the dual role of impresario and restaurateur. It was then that he and his family (his parents; brother, David; wife, Janet; and "the real boss," his five-year-old daughter, Abigail) opened the Courtyard Concert Cafe in Falls Church (in Willston Centre, across from Seven Corners Shopping Center). After 10 years as director of Instrumental Music at the Langley School in McLean, Cummins made the break to the business world. "Since I was a youngster, I have been involved in music and in restaurants," says Cummins, "and I feel very comfortable in both areas. And the emphasis at our place is on both--fine music and fine food."

The process of planning the Courtyard was not haphazard. Cummins attended a series of seminars at Mason's Small Business Development Center on the Fairfax Campus. He is especially grateful for the help of the center's two directors, Michael Kehoe and Julie Janoski, whose guidance in the early stages of the project, he says, was critical. "At George Mason, we also made important contacts with people who offered valuable advice about matters ranging from design to financing."

Since the accent at the Courtyard is as much musical as culinary, the acoustical treatment of the space itself was an important consideration. "We started with the acoustical space and brought in sound engineers who used advanced computer designing tools." And the visual and aesthetic properties of the space were not neglected. "The restaurant's interior was finished by local theatrical scenic artists: The large mural was done by the head scene painter for the Shakespeare Theatre, and the interior treatments were designed by the set designer for the Roundhouse Theatre."

Both the musical and culinary fare at the restaurant are eclectic. Cummins describes the musical menu: "We have live music seven nights a week and at brunch on Sundays. Mondays, our house jazz group, the Nightcourt Septet, performs original compositions and arrangements. Aspiring musicians and composers are encouraged to sit in with the group or have their own compositions performed." (Cummins points out that interested musicians should call the Courtyard and make prior arrangements with Nightcourt's leader, Rob Holmes.)

"Tuesdays bring our Six [Degree] Acoustic Music Showcase, hosted by singer/songwriter Lisa Moscatiello, which offers three or four musical acts and poetry and theatrical readings. From Wednesday through Saturday, local, regional, and national artists are booked, and they present a wide variety of musical styles." Cummins speaks of the Friday evening Open Stage sessions (from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. in the restaurant's bar) with special zeal: "Open Stage is intended to provide aspiring musicians a chance to perform in a professional venue. The first eight people who show up are given a time slot by host Sara Landymore (who also screens them a bit to make sure they are serious about their work). Some of these performers are subsequently booked to 'play the big room.'"

Sunday evenings offer Irish Music and Dancing on the first Sunday of the month; Buck Creek Jazz performs every third Sunday. The fourth Sunday is devoted to opera, and over the past year, several music majors from George Mason have performed to great acclaim.

The Courtyard's somewhat Mediterranean-inspired menu has vegetarian dishes, risottos and pastas, specialty meats (rabbit, venison, and, occasionally, wild boar), and standard American fare. So far, the reviews have been excellent. The Washington Post says, "Its Italian villa decor is stunning, as is the sound system... This could become a major area venue." Washingtonian Magazine lauds its "colorful dining room" and "good acoustics," and the Journal Newspapers call it "a bright new addition to the Northern Virginia restaurant scene."

For more information about the Courtyard Concert Cafe, call (703) 533-2828, or visit its website at

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