It's a familiar dream to almost all who work in food service — to have their own place, to build on what they've learned elsewhere, to avoid the pitfalls. They hope to create businesses where they won't mind spending 60 to 80 to 100 hours a week, preferably at a nice profit.
Jami Bohdan is about to realize the first part of her long-range dream, opening an upscale draft house called the Savory Grain at 2043 W. Broad St. She's hired chef Sean Murphy to run the kitchen, craft a chalkboard menu that will change twice a month, and bring his following to the venture, which is expected to open this week.
Murphy's cooking experience began with chef Robert Ramsey at the former Foxhead Inn and led to well-received stints at the Hill Cafe, Cabo's, Metro Grill, and most recently F.W. Sullivan's and Lady N'awlins. "Fish and game are something I'd like to be known for," Murphy says, "and I do my own butchering. We'll subtly incorporate beer into sauces and marinades, and do duck, a nice steak, fresh breads and gourmet-level American comfort food."
The 83-seat restaurant, the former Empress, has an entirely new look with a long heart-pine bar and wood flooring, a chef's table in the back and carefully chosen lighting and furnishings in two dining rooms with bay-front windows. Bohdan has been a waitress, hostess, bartender and manager, and so naturally expects the restaurant will become a "place where people will want to stay, that's warm and inviting and homey." At the 12-seat bar, wines, microbrews and 24 draft beers "you don't see everywhere" will pair with sharable appetizers.
Dinner will be served nightly except Mondays. 592-4000.
West end addition: Wild Greens & Pig, a fast-casual cafe opening in late February at 9033 Quioccasin Road, is offering take-out food starting this week. Chef Alfredo Macias created the menu of heritage pork barbecue, sandwiches, soups and sides; organic coffee, tea and fresh desserts are also available. Owner Lisa Granger, formerly of Zed Cafe, also operates Wild Greens Catering and Bakery and is known for her interest in natural, organic foods and sustainable practices. Follow the cafe's progress at facebook.com/wildgreenspig. 750-1350.
More incoming: Yes, that's George Washington with a mustache on the logo announcing Jorge's Cantina. The new restaurant is coming to the former Fanhouse at Floyd Avenue and Robinson Street, as Mexico Restaurant's José Garcia joins forces with the team behind F.W. Sullivan's and other properties, Jake Crocker and Hayden Fisher. Look for a selection of traditional Mexican entrees, tequilas and a new décor when the business opens in February.
Taste of Acacia: The first in a series of mini wine dinners comes to this Fan District star Jan. 30. The three-course menu promises European flavors and is $35 per person, plus tax and tip, with seatings from 5:30 p.m. to 9 p.m. Limited reservations are being taken at 562-0138.
Chili time: Star-lite has a football promotion timed for the Super Bowl, selling chili and corn bread to go in 2- and 4-pound sizes, serving 8 to 16 people, at $20 and $40. Customers can pick up orders on Feb. 2 or game day, Feb. 3. Email Shannon@starlitediningandlounge.com.
Dutch & Co.: Intimate retro dining room in Church Hill serves meaty entrees, cocktails and more from chefs Caleb Shriver and Philip Perrow. Dinner Monday through Saturday, 5 p.m. to 10 p.m. at 400 N. 27th St. 643-8824.
Casa del Barco: Tequilas and wide range of Mexican fare in renovated factory beside the Canal Walk. Dinner and bar nightly from 5 p.m. Lunch Mon. - Sat., brunch Sunday. 320 S. 12th St. 775-2628. Casadelbarco.com.
Boo's Brown Bag: American menu of deli sandwiches, burgers, vegan options and breakfast, lunch and late-night for take-out and delivery. 1201 W. Main St. 358-2667. Boosbrownbag.com.
Urban Farmhouse: Second location of natural foods coffeehouse with sandwiches, salads, soups. Breakfast, lunch and dinner daily. 13872 Coalfield Commons Place, Midlothian. 378-3366. Theurbanfarmhouse.net.
Saison: Cozy Jackson Ward gastro-pub with craft beer, seasonal menu, service expertise. Nightly except Mondays. 23 W. Marshall St. 269-3689. Saisonrva.com.
Rappahannock: Fresh oysters, raw bar, appetizers to seasonal entrees, full bar from owners of Rappahannock River Oysters. Lunch Tuesday through Friday, dinner and bar nightly, Sunday brunch from 10:30 a.m. 320 E. Grace St. 545-0565. Rroysters.com.
Now that Dutch & Co., a 40-seat cafe in Church Hill, has opened following a long run-up of anticipation, customers are beating a path to the door. They've watched the earnest young owners, chefs Caleb Shriver (Aziza's) and Phillip Perrow (Acacia), and bartender Michelle Shriver (Acacia), set the business in motion. And while it took months longer than expected, the results are an appealing amalgamation of vintage and current accents, familiar and unexpected flavors. It's serving dinner Monday through Saturday, 5-10 p.m., at 400 N. 27th St., 643-8824. The three owners took a moment to answer a few questions by email after opening night:
What do you want the restaurant to be known for?
A comfortable welcoming atmosphere, where you can get food and drink and always know it's good.
What are some of your favorite dishes on the menu? And drinks?
Borscht, porridge, honey pot, Sunday Paper, D&C's Sam Ward. … That's a hard question. How do you pick the favorites of what you have created? We think they are all delicious!
Can you tell a little about how the interior décor came together?
We were lucky enough to work with Shannon Reed, a very talented interior designer who just moved back to Richmond. She took all three of our ideas, and helped create what is now Dutch & Co. Daniel Rickey, custom woodworker, created our bar, tables and bar back. Patrick Gibrall took all our crazy construction ideas and made them happen.
What has the experience of opening a restaurant been like for you?
Amazing. A learning experience in patience, business and community.
Vibe milestone: Nine years into its notable mission to train folks with disabilities to work in the restaurant business, Max's Positive Vibe Café is celebrating all month. Live music, guest chefs, events and menu updates — plus the eye-pleasing murals on exterior walls — make this a spot every Richmonder should check out. 2825 Hathaway Road. 560-9622. positivevibecafe.com.
Seafood seller: Charles Fice is the new owner of Tuckahoe Seafood, 1007 Starling Drive. Fice says the place is adding more Virginia gourmet products and continuing to offer Rappahannock River Oysters, Scottish farm-raised salmon, fresh fish and crab cakes, oyster florentine, crab and shrimp dips. Open daily except Sunday. 740-1278. tuckahoeseafood.com.
Casa del Barco: Tequilas and a wide range of Mexican fare in a renovated factory beside the Canal Walk. Dinner and bar nightly from 5, brunch and lunch hours coming soon. 320 S. 12th St. 775-2628. casadelbarco.com.
Boo's Brown Bag: American menu of deli sandwiches, burgers, vegan options and breakfast, lunch and late-night for takeout and delivery. 1201 W. Main St. 358-2667. boosbrownbag.com.
Urban Farmhouse: A second location of natural foods coffeehouse with sandwiches, salads, soups. Breakfast, lunch and dinner daily. 13872 Coalfield Commons Place, Midlothian. 378-3366. theurbanfarmhouse.net.
Saison: Cozy Jackson Ward gastro-pub with craft beer, seasonal menu and service expertise. Nightly except Mondays. 23 W. Marshall St. 269-3689. saisonrva.com.
Rappahannock: Fresh oysters, raw bar, appetizers, seasonal entrees and full bar in a new downtown hot spot from the owners of Rappahannock River Oysters. Lunch Tuesday-Friday, dinner and bar nightly, Sunday brunch from 10:30 a.m. 320 E. Grace St. 545-0565. rroysters.com.
A2: Cozy spot for Asian fusion food, bento dog and cocktails in a chic, minimalist lounge. Weekday lunch, dinner and bar nightly except Sunday. 1112 E. Main St. 344-3220. a2restaurant.com.
Church Hill's restaurant repertoire got a switch-up with the new year. OMG Café closed and Johnson's Southern Comfort opened earlier this month. Owner Deandre Johnson planned to keep both places running but couldn't make that happen; he's moved staff and resources from the popular cafe to Johnson's, in the former Jumpin J's Java space at 2306 Jefferson Ave.
It took about a year to transform the once-bohemian coffeehouse into a wood-trimmed bar and dining rooms with warm, hand-built character. "It's a family-friendly place," Johnson says, "with a new line of vegetarian options and healthier menu but keeping the comfort food people appreciate." Chicken and waffles, spaghetti, oyster po' boy sandwiches, burgers, and mac and cheese are among the choices. An all-you-can-eat buffet on Sundays is $12.99 and includes baked chicken and fish along with a range of vegetable side dishes.
Johnson's Southern Comfort serves lunch and dinner daily except Mondays. 2306 Jefferson Ave. 269-0531.
Boo's Brown Bag: Expected to open this week in the Fan, this new business promises home-cooked meals and sandwiches daily for carry-out, in the former Carlyle's Café space at 1201 W. Main St. Hiring is in progress; Bob Windsor, co-owner of Eat Oregon Hill, is a partner. 358-2667.
Saison: This new Jackson Ward gastro-pub is off to a fast start. Owners Jay Bayer and Chris Elford and their business are named in Imbibe Magazine's 75 movers and shakers for 2013 in national beverage programs. "We are very excited to be recognized so early on for our efforts," they write. "It is a badge that will continue to motivate us to excel in all avenues of our beverage program." Saison also holds cocktail demonstrations and other events. It's open nightly except Mondays at 23 W. Marshall St. 269-3689. saisonrva.com.
Reader tip: "Please review Queen's Caribbean restaurant. It is at Southside Plaza behind Family Dollar store. It is basically a carryout with just two tables but the food is excellent and the place is usually packed with looong lines. The real deal is the kids' meal, available to any age, for just $3.50. It is very generous and quite popular with the adult patrons. I've never had a bad meal. Thanks." — Aletha Brunson
Rappahannock: Fresh oysters, raw bar, appetizers to seasonal entrees, full bar in new downtown hot spot from owners of Rappahannock River Oysters. Lunch Tuesday-Friday, dinner and bar nightly, Sunday brunch from 10:30 a.m. 320 E. Grace St. 545-0565. rroysters.com.
The RumbleSeat Grill: In Goochland at the Rockville-Manakin exit, this country dining room with separate barroom has comfort food specials and other hearty fare, and is a neighborhood draw for casual family-friendly dining. Lunch and dinner Tuesday through Saturday, Sunday brunch, closed Mondays. 12912 Plaza Drive. 784-2737. rumbleseatgrill.com.
A2: Cozy spot for Asian fusion food, bento dog, cocktails in chic, minimalist lounge. Weekday lunch, dinner and bar nightly except Sunday. 1112 E. Main St. 344-3220. a2restaurant.com.
Sub Rosa Wood Fired Bakery: Unique artisanal breads, old world pastries, coffee. Tuesday- Friday 7 a.m. - 6 p.m.; Saturday and Sunday 9 a.m. - 5 p.m. 620 N. 25th St. 788-7672. subrosabakery.com.
Just when it seemed Richmond couldn't absorb another restaurant, a flurry of year-end openings pushed the city's bounty over the top.
The newest is Casa del Barco, an upscale Mexican cantina in a smartly renovated warehouse along the Canal Walk. The 5,700-square-foot space is the first business in the Locks, in the former Reynolds Metals building called the Italianate. It's intended to appeal to downtown workers and residents of the adjacent apartment buildings, who are moving in this month.
Rotisserie chicken with red chili sauce, rabbit braised in mole sauce and ancho-braised pork shank entrees share menu space with enchiladas, tacos and tamales, all prepared by chefs and line cooks with decades of experience in the flavors of New — and Old — Mexico. Tequilas previously not served in Richmond will be highlights at the bar, which is made of wood reclaimed from the renovation. Original fixtures and industrial heft give the project a sense of age but with new amenities, and room for outdoor dining that's become a fixation for Richmonders.
Owner Kevin Healy says he hired 80 people for the restaurant, bringing his employee count at the Boathouse locations in Brandermill, Rocketts Landing and Casa del Barco to 250, including "an unusual number of folks who've worked for me for many years," Healy says. "I feel it's a responsibility to provide for them" with successfully operating businesses.
"We want to be an integral part of the social fabric and help define some of the activities of the area," Healy says. "I have the experience to help build community support, and that's what I hope I can bring" to the canal and Brown's Island area, he says. The empire doesn't stop with this addition; an Italian farm-to-table spot is figuring in Healy's next plans.
Our restaurant reviewers suggest a few favorite dishes.
Whole branzino at Enoteca Sogno: The fish is garlicky, crispy and delectable right down to the eyes and cheeks.
Korean fried chicken at Eat Oregon Hill: The glaze of chili, garlic and soy is addicting, and the house-made kim kraut's tang cuts through the sweet heat for blissful balance.
Shrimp dumpling soup Hong Kong style at Full Kee: Sweet shrimp dumplings bob in chicken broth infused with whole chicken flavor.
Chiles rellenos at La Bamba: goopy sauce, runny cheese and a bowl of warm chips served late. Its stuffed peppers are comfort food after a night of boozing.
Brunswick stew and homemade bread at Stella's: a Greek take on two Southern favorites, Sally Lunn bread with a meal in a bowl.
Salt and pepper squid at Mekong: Scallions, little peppers and curly fries of tender calamari pack a salty crunch.
Oxtail over rice and peas at Jamaica House: The tenderest beef stew is spiced island-style and served with crisp cabbage and mushy beans and rice. I ask for extra gravy.
Sandwich No. 13 on white, toasted from Nick's Produce: the best six inches in Richmond, with heaps of prosciutto, salami, hot peppers and provolone with industrial mayo and streams of oily dressing that pool in the corners of the deli paper for dipping chips.
Chicken tenders at Wise Choice: Who gets excited about hand-breaded chicken tenders from a Manakin-Sabot gas station? You do. Plan your Super Bowl party around them.
Brazilian cheese rolls and chicken hearts at Bistro 27: tender, comforting, chewy and cheesy. Like chicken and dumplings but ... not.
Chocolate and sea salt caramel crème brûlée at Amour Wine Bistro: luscious with the perfect sweet-salty note. For extra decadence, enjoy it with a glass of wine or port.
Margherita pizza at Anthony's on the Hill: Master baker Michael Calogerakis' pizzas have the best crust in Richmond, chewy and full-flavored.