When Sheep Hill Bistro opened June 15 at 1301 W. Leigh St., it was the culmination of years of hard work for chef and co-owner Leslie Cox — the fruits of a lifetime spent cooking and just over a decade since the former administrator went back to school to get her culinary degree.
“This is my dream,” Cox said. “I’ve been wanting to do this for so long. This just represents so much for me: financial freedom, creative freedom, the opportunity to build something for my family.”
Cox grew up cooking, standing with her grandmother in the kitchen and learning from her. Her brother, Lindbergh Cox, grew up eating her food. He was with her on opening day, as a brother and co-owner, and will be on all the days after. As he always has been.
“It’s just been me and him for so long,” Leslie said. “We’ve been partners in crime for a long time.”
With Sheep Hill Bistro, the siblings, along with business partner Tank Young, bring an American gastropub to Carver.
“It’s a New American menu,” Leslie said recently, noting that she wanted to keep the price point affordable. “I want to be a part of the neighborhood. The menu is foods I like to eat.”
The siblings, who grew up in Lakeside, said the Carver neighborhood has been supportive; neighbors popped in to check on the progress and offered to help. The owners of nearby Cobra Cabana restaurant offered advice, a hand, whatever was needed. And a week before the opening, one neighbor bought and planted flowers in front of the restaurant, a welcoming gift from a neighborhood eager to have a new eatery.
“The neighborhood’s been so good,” Leslie said. “I don’t know what I expected, but it’s been such a great experience.”
The opening menu features appetizers, such as wings, fried oysters and BBQ shrimp flatbread pizzas ($8-$12); salads and sandwiches, including cheese steak, burgers, grilled salmon and crabcakes ($8-$12); and dinner entrées, such as braised oxtails, rockfish, pasta, sea stew and grilled lamb chops ($14-$22).
“I just want to offer something fresh. Some place comfortable. Some place you can just chill,” Leslie said.
Leslie has always loved cooking, but she worked in offices as an administrator for more than a decade before deciding to go to culinary school. She got her degree in culinary arts from J. Sargeant Reynolds Community College in 2009 and worked as a chef for a few years — including at the Commonwealth Club and 2020 Experience — but it wasn’t for her.
“I needed to work in my own restaurant,” she said.
Leslie went back to being an administrator, biding her time and waiting for a place of her own.
She found it in February in the former The Magpie restaurant space on Leigh Street. The Magpie closed in 2015, and the space had been vacant since.
Leslie invited Lindbergh and Young in on the deal.
“She’s my big sister. She’s my protector. At least she was until I got big enough,” Lindbergh said. “We’ve always just had us.”
The siblings are 2½ years apart in age.
“He’ll be 50 in July,” Leslie said. She can’t help but smile about the milestone that’s coming up. Lindbergh was in the back of the restaurant, and she yelled to remind him of the date, using a childhood nickname to goad him.
He gave her a look when he came up front: “[What] did you say?” Leslie smiled.
The restaurant is Lindbergh’s second business. In 2014, he used his legal background to launch Run to Court, a litigation support service, that’s now in three states.
“When Leslie went to culinary school it opened my eyes that this is something she really wanted to do,” Lindbergh said. “And God has been good enough to me that I’ve been able to help her.”
In many ways, family is the driving force behind the restaurant.
“I’m a grandmother,” Leslie said. “I’m in the second half of my life; I’m 52, and this is mine to build. To leave something behind for my grandchildren. To build my empire.”
But more than anything, Leslie said she’s looking forward to “the hush. That moment when the food hits the table and everything goes silent, and people just dig in and start eating.”
Lindbergh smiled. “She always could cook,” he said.