Skip to main contentSkip to main content
You have permission to edit this article.
Edit
popular top story

Watch Now: 'Servant to the community' is town's youngest restaurant owner

  • 0
William Denton

At just 24, William Denton is the sole owner of White Birch Food & Juice in Abingdon, making him the youngest restaurant owner in town.

ABINGDON, Va. — After waking before sunrise to a morning cup of French-pressed coffee and a brisk walk in town with Gracie, an English cream golden retriever, William Denton heads to work just a few blocks away.

The brick sidewalk outside his Abingdon home leads him on foot to White Birch Food & Juice, an award-winning eatery in town known for its cold-pressed juices and made-from-scratch menu.

Denton, who’s finishing up his business education at Emory & Henry College, said it’s just now sinking in that the East Main Street business founded in 2014 belongs to him.

Only 24 years of age, Denton became the sole owner of the locally owned restaurant a few weeks ago, after two business partners sold their interests, making him the youngest restaurant owner in town.

Dressed in a casual cotton shirt, shorts and sandals, he may not look like the typical business owner in town, but he’s optimistic about his future and the town where he was raised.

With no restaurant experience to speak of, Denton is being praised for leading the popular restaurant into a post-COVID recovery. He is keeping the wellness menus the restaurant was founded on but mingling the menu with a little bit of Southern comfort foods learned from his beloved late grandmother, Alvena “Casteel” Davis.

On Fridays and Saturdays, you can catch the young entrepreneur in the kitchen making some of the restaurant favorites, along with a few of his own.

“For a Friday night special, I’ve cooked Grandma’s salmon cakes with mashed potatoes and green beans. You just can’t beat that served with cornbread,” he said, with a contagious smile that reflects his outgoing personality.

Denton helps out on the weekends to fill a gap in the work shifts.

“There’s no need hiring someone when I can do it,” said the owner, who describes himself as a conservative businessman. He credits his grandmother, a business-savvy woman, for instilling in him a good business sense and for helping him pave the way to entrepreneurial success.

Michael Ferracci, who, along with Nicole Dyer, previously owned the Abingdon downtown restaurant, said Denton is a perfect fit for the business. “I tried to get William to come to work here for more than three years,” said Ferracci, who co-owned the restaurant at the time. “I knew I needed that kid because he knows everybody in town. I believed he could take this place and run with it.”

With wisdom far beyond his years, Denton operates the business with the same values and principles he was taught as a youth — “having a heart for people.”

Although he’s been offered the finer things in life, Denton’s childhood started with humble beginnings.

Denton was born Ruslan Kusch in 1999 in Moscow, Russia. At age 2, his life dramatically changed when he was adopted by Mike and Patty Denton, whose family owned Woodsview Dairy, a long-running farm in Abingdon, Virginia.

Malnourished, Denton weighed only 17 pounds at the time of the adoption.

Underneath the flashy diamond rings and designer watch he wears is a young man whose good works far outshine any jewelry he dons.

Denton has worked at Farris Funeral Home in Abingdon for nearly a decade, a job he acquired at age 16 just about the time he started driving.

When his grandfather, James Davis, died in 2004, Denton was fascinated with the mortuary business and took an interest in comforting people during their losses.

“When someone passes away in the community, I want to take that burden on me,” he said.

“Community is my niche in life. I love being the busy bee in town,” said Denton, who finds time to mingle with customers at the restaurant while also performing volunteer work in the community.

The young man who described himself as a “servant to the community” said his focus is being a heart for people.

“Everybody knows if they need something, they can call me, and I’ll be right there to help them,” he said. It’s not uncommon for him to volunteer to take a shift when a business owner in town needs an extra hand.

Everyone’s friend

His desire to help others actually began as early as when he was a student at Abingdon High School, where Denton served as class president for two consecutive years.

“I didn’t care who you were or what you had, I was your friend. If I see you’re down, I’m going to do everything in my power to get your spirits up.”

He recalled one day after school, he spotted a student walking home in the pouring rain. “I didn’t know him well, but I convinced him to let me drive him home.”

During the trip to his home far into the country, the student opened up about his troubled home life.

“The next day, he brought me a handwritten letter, thanking me for doing the nicest thing anyone had ever done for him. I still have that letter.”

Sink or swim

Only 24 days after Denton became a third business partner in March 2020, the new restaurant owner was forced to close the doors to in-house dining on March 24 due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

After the kitchen manager left the restaurant, Denton was left to manage the kitchen, preparing take-out meals for customers.

Denton describes becoming a new restaurant owner as being “thrown in the water to sink or swim.”

With the help of the restaurant’s former owners, Denton gradually learned the ropes, eventually embracing the restaurant industry.

A large recipe binder in the restaurant became Denton’s best resource as he practiced cooking, remembering the lessons he learned while watching his grandmother cook when he was younger.

“I went through every recipe in that binder,” said Denton, who learned to make all of the customer favorites, like the restaurant’s “Power Bowl” made with grilled broccoli and chickpeas, topped with roasted sweet potatoes, beets, walnuts, cranberries and avocado and finished off with goat cheese and a maple dressing.

“I love making the Thai Chicken Wrap. And my favorite dish to prepare is the fried grouper with a lemon glaze,” he said.

Patsy Austin, an employee at the restaurant, continues to make the cold-pressed juices, a staple menu item. He currently manages 13 employees — six in the kitchen and seven up front.

“Our passion is fresh, local and made with love” is written on a sign in the restaurant. Denton is committed to preparing meals with farm-fresh foods from local growers from Georgia to Northern Virginia.

While reflecting on the busy summer schedule that lies ahead, the owner plans to one day offer franchise opportunities in the region. “I have a great business model,” he said.

“Some days, it doesn’t feel real that I was born in Russia,” he said.

After completing an AncestryDNA test, Denton met online some of his cousins who live in Russia, but he has no plans to visit the country.

“This is my home now.”

White Birch Food & Juice, located at 170 E. Main St. in Abingdon, is open 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday; 9 a.m. to 8:30 p.m. on Saturdays; and 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Sundays. Follow the restaurant on Facebook.

Carolyn R. Wilson is a freelance writer in Glade Spring, Virginia. Contact her at citydesk@bristolnews.com.

0 Comments

The business news you need

* I understand and agree that registration on or use of this site constitutes agreement to its user agreement and privacy policy.

Related to this story

Most Popular

In a state where Toyota is moving forward on a planned $1.3 billion electric vehicle battery plant that is expected to create 1,750 jobs, four Republican N.C. House members have filed legislation — couched as a quest for equity for drivers who still choose to gas up rather than plug in — that would limit access to free electric vehicle chargers.

The 1,550-square-foot home with three bedrooms and two bathrooms is the result of a partnership between Virginia Housing and the Virginia Center for Housing Research at Virginia Tech.

Lindy White, president of Ballad Health’s Northwestern Region operations and chief executive officer of Holston Valley Medical Center, has accepted the opportunity to serve in a national role with a leading health care company.

Get up-to-the-minute news sent straight to your device.

Topics

Breaking News

News Alerts