Renewal of The White Spot

picture of The White Spot logo, the owner, and the Gusburger.

Every town has its iconic eatery. Atlanta has The Varsity. New Orleans has Cafe du Monde. Memphis has The Rendezvous. And Charlottesville has… well, Charlottesville has The White Spot.

Born in 1953, The White Spot ranks after The Virginian and The Nook as the oldest restaurant in Charlottesville. And since day one, it’s been a mainstay on the UVA Corner, literally serving generations of students an unforgettable burger experience—typically late at night.

What gives The White Spot its mystique? The answer is right before your eyes: combining quality, eccentric personality, and a hole-in-the-wall setting is the stuff of legend.

The Quality of The White Spot

A Burger was a Burger was a Burger until it wasn’t. That’s when $16 burgers became routine on menus across America. Not at The White Spot! Their burger, made from the cow, has always retailed among the least expensive in town—today they have a $4 burger—yet the style and panache with which The Spot serves ‘em up, and arms’ length form the grill and steaming hot on a styrofoam plate, makes The White Spot burger experience unlike any other. 

The Gus Burger, the Double Gus, the Motor Burger, and the One-Eyed Bacon Cheese Burger are a few of the classics, and, like their last beer, most patrons will say they never met one they didn’t like.

The Eccentric Personality of The White Spot

The White Spot’s short-order format ensures a unique intimacy between diner and chef. Across a formica counter only three feet away, apron-clad and saucy burgermeisters negotiate your order in vivid, sometimes responsive detail. As if from a yearbook, patrons remember Henry who worked the grill for 34 glorious years, and Rosie for 30… Nat and Dimitri for more than 20. Long before Weber Grills met George Foreman, these gentlemen formed a legacy of stewardship for generations of undergraduates and nostalgic alumni alike.

By the way, few know the legend of The White Spot’s name. Before it was The White Spot, it was the “University Beauty Salon.” When the beauty salon moved to larger quarters down the street, the new owners moved in and began to set up their restaurant. As they painted the walls, they noticed a white spot in the center of the floor where the beauty chair had been. Inspiration struck! The white spot stayed, and The White Spot was born.

The Hole-in-the-Wall Setting

Once you descend the staircase that turns on The Corner, University Avenue stumbles, really, down to 14th Street. Before you make the light, there awaits The White Spot. Cramped but with an adjoining room, the windows faintly foggy with grease, the grill sizzling with EKG premonition…there’s nothing about The White Spot that would draw your mother. But your dad? That could be another matter. Because dads know a good burger joint when they see one. 

New Ownership, New Energy

In 1975 Bert Ellis was Head of the Student Union. He lived on The Lawn. An econ major, he also worked the grill at The Spot. Almost 50 years and a major media career later, Ellis is making another dream come true—“buying the iconic diner in your college town.” He’s leading an illustrious 15-person ownership team — including Ralph Sampson, Marvin Bush, and Lem Lewis — on a mission to extend the aura of The White Spot. 

Accordingly, The Spot’s a little cleaner now. Fresh paint and new signs cut through the fog. Down the steps by the cash register, the adjoining Legacy Room holds up to 25 people. For $500, it’s now available for private parties with BYOB. Newly decorated with fresh orange & blue paint, an azure mural, and photos of some of UVA’s greatest stars—from Palumbo to the Barbers to Stanwyk—the room rivals The Aberdeen Barn’s barroom for classic UVA memorabilia. 

Ellis has a firm grasp on what’s classic, and The Spot’s menu won’t change much. And while he plans to introduce a No Meat Burger alongside the Veggie Burger, “there will be no avocado,” says Ellis. He’s halfway thinking of bringing back the bowl of beans. “They soak up a lot of beer,” he says. Not to be forgotten, is the piece de resistance known worldwide as “Grillswith”, which became a White Spot staple after the closing of the University Diner in 1985.

The Gus Bus

Coming Soon: The Gus Bus. You’ll be able to enjoy your famous burger off the Corner, down Rugby Road or at Foxfield, for instance. While 500 diners makes a good day at the restaurant, The Gus Bus is likely to feed many multiples of that in the field, and the thought of that brings a tear to Ellis’ eye.

“For us, a big part of our motivation is to love The University through The White Spot,” says Ellis. “We’re an institution within an institution.”

Click here for our Complete Guide to Charlottesville Dining.

Click here for our Guide to the 6 Best Burgers in Cville.