A Powerful Legacy: Restaurant Entrepreneur Tom Power Sr.

by Marisa Marsey | Oct 31, 2017

Power takes many forms. Forceful. Political. Formal. But none has had more of a tasteful impact locally than that embodied by Tom Power Sr., the gracious entrepreneur who died in June while ocean swimming in Bermuda, his favorite exercise in a favorite vacation spot.

Nearly half a century ago at a shop in Newport News, he and his beloved wife, Mary Ellen, introduced cutting-edge gourmet sandwiches and imported specialties to the Wonder Bread world of Tidewater. They opened another store in 1973 on Williamsburg’s Prince George Street, moving it after three decades to nearby Merchants Square where it’s now The Cheese Shop and Fat Canary, a renowned New American restaurant. (They also were part owners of The Trellis from 1980 to 1994.)

Their three children—Mary Ellen Jr., Cathy and Tom Jr.—run the family business today. “It’s like our home,” says Mary Ellen Jr. In fact, it’s a powerhouse, noted for elevating the colonial capital’s cuisine in such as The New York Times.

Their parents’ unbreakable partnership was the foundation for success, the kids agree; their mom, merchandising and bookkeeping, their dad, a manager obsessively sweating the details. “They were always here together,” recalls an employee, “treating everyone respectfully.” At 81, Power still kicked off the day at staff lineup with sage words, his courtly presence prompting everyone’s A game: shirt tails tucked in, purposeful.

While publicly supporting organizations including Child Development Resources and Williamsburg Community Foundation, he quietly provided a boost—financial, inspirational—to many needing a leg up. He was athletic and competitive (unsurprising, considering the Granby grad was the youngest of four boys) and an avid traveler, savoring new foods and wines to discern trends. His family made a game of his seemingly photographic gastronomic memory with quizzes like: “What did you have for dinner the first night you and Mom were honeymooning in Bermuda?” Instantly he’d reply, “It was the first time I ever had quiche Lorraine.”

Power relished meals as a force to bring people together; a catalyst for ideas, conversation, love. After taking a bite of practically anything, he’d jubilantly proclaim: “That’s the best I’ve ever tasted!” Business was his passion, a joy for him every day, says his family. It’s a joy they continue sharing with others. A powerful legacy.  

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