FAYETTEVILLE — When Fayetteville’s Sedona Grill opened its doors 17 years ago, “it was only us and Gino’s,” says Virginia Price.

She and her husband, Brion Levine, pride themselves on having established “Fayetteville’s longest-running, independently owned and operated restaurant,” but come Sunday, they will serve up a last meal to their loyal customer base, and the Sedona will close down for good.

 The couple has seen the town’s restaurant scene blossom over time, growing from “us and Gino’s” to a downtown where Cajun food and gourmet sandwiches are the norm. But they place at least part of the blame for the restaurant’s closing on their inability to get hooked into the town’s sewer system — a situation that led to a radical menu change three years ago.

 Eleven years ago, they were forced to spend $10,000 on a grease trap and new septic system, which they were told would last seven years. Price says the Fayetteville Town Council assured her that they would bring sewer service to her business within that time.

 Seven years later, there was still no sewer, and the grease trap had reached the end of its lifespan. To address the problem, Price decided to change the menu to a tapas-style offering and serve food in metal baskets so that they would have to wash fewer dishes. They became “Sedona Cantina and Tapas.” She says reducing the washing enabled them to continue with the septic system but avoid installing a new grease trap.

 That was three years ago. And for two years, says Price, her revenues were cut in half because her customers were upset with the change.

 “Somebody told me that the word on the street was that people didn’t like the new menu, and I felt like saying, ‘Why don’t you go talk to the town about it?’” she says.

 Business was getting better this past year, but not enough to offset all that was lost. And though she does partly blame the town’s lack of sewer service at her location, she says she also can’t ignore the tanked economy and the fact that more restaurants in the area means “the pieces of the pie get smaller for all of us.”

The fact that most rafting companies these days are all-inclusive and self-contained also leads her to believe that tourists are venturing out into town less and less.

 In sum, “Gauley season isn’t what it used to be,” she says.

 Though Price says she knew the closing was going to happen eventually, she didn’t know “what form it would take,” or that it would happen so suddenly.

The building at 1690 Court Street will go into foreclosure, Price confirms.

 The couple has no immediate plans, and Price says even if sewer were to be hooked up tomorrow, she lost some of her passion when the menu change happened. Plus, she says running a small business in Fayetteville is an uphill battle and the town could do more to foster independent businesses. For example, she had to sue the town — and win — in order to get a beer and wine license years ago. The fighting got so heated at one point that the Town Council meeting had to be moved to a bigger venue.

  Town councils and personnel have come and gone since then, of course, and the current town superintendent, Bill Lanham, says he is very sorry to see the restaurant go.

 “I’m really sad to hear that,” he says. “It’s one of the things that people always remark to me — that they love to come to Fayetteville because of the unique dining opportunities we have.”

 In the restaurant’s early days, its eclectic menu, which ranged from Asian to Greek to German-inspired dishes, prompted skepticism from locals.

 “Nobody had ever had a quesadilla when we moved here,” Price says. “People were baffled by a reuben. We served food everybody thought was weird, but through time and perseverance, people decided they liked it.

 “My plan was always to build the business and keep doing what we’re doing, and then sell the building and retire, but it hasn’t worked out that way,” says Price, who moved to Fayetteville from Pennsylvania.

 “I love what we do. I feel devastated. It has been our baby. We didn’t have kids. We just worked a business.”

 — E-mail: cmoore@register-herald.com

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