Nestled in between Got Dumplings and Roots on the Corner, Fig — which stands for “Food is Good” — is a familiar and fundamental piece of University life. Fig is an elegant, rustic bistro known for its Southern-style food. This year marks the tenth year since Fig first opened its doors on the Corner, and despite its popularity, many may not know the people or the origins behind the acclaimed restaurant.
Before opening Fig at its current location in 2012, Anja Andelic, who owns the restaurant with her husband Joseph, started at a farmer’s market in Charlottesville selling baklava with her mother. Their success at the farmer’s market led to a series of business ventures that ultimately resulted in Fig.
“My mom and I, we started at a farmers market and we had a small bakery after that,” Andelic said. “Then we had a restaurant that was serving more of different kinds of food — not necessarily Cajun, New Orleans American — briefly down the street, but we had to move because we had to change the landlords. So we found a very friendly guy here [who found us] this space and we fell in love with the location.”
Family has always been at the center of Fig’s business identity. The colorful mural that greets customers the instant they walk in has been on the same wall since before the restaurant officially opened its doors and features members of the Fig family — including immediate family as well as employees from Fig’s earliest years.
That sense of family with the employees, who are known as “Figlets,” has persisted over the past decade and has been instrumental in ensuring the restaurant’s lasting success on the Corner. Fig has persevered through the years despite the high turnover rate of restaurants on the Corner and has continued to flourish even as many restaurants have come and gone. Andelic attributes her restaurant’s longevity primarily to those deep bonds formed between Figlets.
“These Figlets that are here and that were here became my little family,” Andelic said. “True friendships are being developed here. Where before you came in and you would ‘clock in and clock out’, now it's different.”
Andelic proudly boasts that 100 percent of Fig’s front-of-house employees are University students. These Figlets and their friendships have established an environment of camaraderie that they say makes Fig so unique.
Third-year Education student Ashley Rodriguez cites the friendships as her favorite part of working at Fig and credits them with making the experience so enjoyable.
“I really enjoy going to work,” Rodriguez said. “All of my friends are like, ‘you're so busy … why are you working so much?’ I'm like ‘no, it's like going to hang out with my friends and also doing work, so it's still fun.’”
Third-year College student Zoe Tumminello echoed the importance of these friendships.
“I would also say the community [is Fig’s best feature],” Tumminello said. “I’m not in a sorority. My college experience is really shortened from COVID and graduating early, so this completely a friend group, and it’s just so nice.”
Another element of Fig’s success has been its creativity and innovation. Weekly and seasonal specials have been integral in establishing a loyal customer base who appreciates a menu that always has something new to offer.
Along with traditional dining, Fig has been host to numerous private events, which range from date functions to rehearsal dinners and even weddings. There are also regularly scheduled weeknight specials, like their themed Survivor Hour Thursday nights. Fig employees work collaboratively to generate themes and ideas that align with student interests on how they dress and decorate the restaurant. Rodriguez adds that the Figlets often ask for customer input in their creative process as well.
“We also survey the room,” Rodriguez said. “And if some person is really excited about [a theme], usually the regular customers or regular students who come in, we ask them and they just give us a theme and we’ll be like, ‘yeah, we’ll do that.’”
Fig’s first decade has seen it flourish and grow to be a family business in the truest sense, and Andelic hopes it will continue to thrive in the future. She dreams of expanding to a rooftop and even another building beyond their current locations, but maintains that her greatest hopes for Fig center on the people and relationships in it.
“I would like for our hearts to keep beating the same way and not to be hurt or chipped,” Andelic said. “That's the bottom line. I would love to continue what we have been building on. I would love to meet more and adopt more and make more relationships.”