Small Business on the Rise: THE WATER DOG

As revitalization blossoms on the Bluffwalk, bringing a jolt of vibrancy to Lynchburg living, the Hill City may have a new spirit animal—the Labrador.

This best friend of man is embodied in one of the city’s newest dining establishments—The Water Dog.

For categorization purposes, The Water Dog is best described as a taphouse, featuring 36 craft beers on draught, freshly made foods, including oysters, clams, shrimp, burgers, salads, soup, stew, homemade cookies and more, as well as plenty of entertainment—TVs, a 16-foot shuffle board, ping-pong, a chalkboard and a giant movie projector. But the restaurant is so much more. The made-in house menu (which was recently expanded), including choices for kiddos (owner Dave Henderson boasts to serve “Lynchburg’s best hot dog”), laid back atmosphere and accessibility to the Bluffwalk—literally on it, facing the splash park from 1016 Jefferson Street—make The Water Dog a draw for the whole family; one that is uniquely Lynchburg.

The name is important for a number of reasons but begins with the heart of a Labrador.

“A water dog does not distinguish between work and play,” Henderson, who is quick to sit down and meet guests when he’s in, explained. “We wanted to bring that philosophy downtown.”

This is personal to Henderson, who spent a decade working in marketing for a large company, moving from city to city, with stints in Washington, D.C., Richmond, St. Louis and Charlotte. As his family grew, he began longing to be closer to his native Central Virginia.

“I was starting to learn more about myself and to question, ‘What was it all for?’ and dream about what life would be like if I really followed my passion and lived closer to family and friends at home,” he said.

The dilemma is not uncommon.

The spirit of the water dog is just what Henderson needed. He grew up having Labradors—and even lost a longtime pet shortly before starting the project—which he says are his favorite animal.

The restaurant opened in September 2016 and quickly established itself as a Lynchburg hotspot. And whatever someone’s career may be, Henderson hopes that The Water Dog can inspire them.

“The brand is more than a restaurant,” Henderson said. “It represents a lifestyle … people who love what they do day in and day out—hiking, fishing, their family, even their job. We want Lynchburg to think of us as a change of pace and a place that they can call home.”

The craft beer scene, which is very social in nature, complements the downtown vibe. A new steamer has elevated the menu. And an upstairs loft tenant has brought The Water Dog to life—a Lab named River has become “the house dog,” Henderson says.

“He is basically like downtown Lynchburg’s dog.”

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By Drew Menard