When Christopher Davis opened Alamo BBQ in Church Hill, the neighborhood north of Broad Street had seen little of the revival that it’s experiencing today.
“People thought I was crazy,” he says.
The Texas native moved to Richmond as a teenager, holding a string of jobs in local restaurants. Brisket had been a family tradition, and he and his brother, Scott, soon turned it into an obsession.
Davis wanted to open a lunch cart. But after they saw the space on Jefferson Avenue, his brother argued that Davis could afford to open a restaurant there. The catch was that to afford it, he’d have to give up his apartment, convert the large shed off Jefferson into a living space and do the work on the restaurant himself.
After living out back “clandestinely” for nearly a year, Davis says, he was able to open the doors in 2009. Part of what made the place successful was both the support of the early homebuyers living in the Church Hill neighborhood and the police officers assigned to its beat.
“They’d eat there and hang out while I was closing down in the early days,” he says.
Now, Alamo brings in anywhere from 100 to 200 people from outside of the neighborhood each day, Davis says. There’s been a buying frenzy in Church Hill and commercial properties are hard to come by. It’s not an exaggeration to say that Alamo was the first spark in a market that’s become hotter and hotter.
Alamo also has become an integral part of the neighborhood fabric, and you’ll see Davis and his barbecue at the Hogtober Festival, the Irish Festival and Shockoe Bottom’s Brew-B-Q and Bacon festivals. He caters teacher events at the public schools, works with Blue Sky East End Games, Church Hill Activities and Tutoring, and Girls Rock.
Davis wants to expand Alamo to provide indoor seating and a larger kitchen than the tiny, boiling-hot one it uses now. He owns a building on 25th Street, which he uses as a catering kitchen, and will move Alamo into it temporarily while he renovates.
“I want to keep people employed while Alamo is under construction,” he says.
Once the barbecue is back home, the previous catering space will become a more upscale restaurant called Frontier, with a late-night fusion menu aimed at the restaurant industry crowd.
“This is what I love to do,” Davis says. “I love the variety and I love the rush — I love the adrenaline that comes from it all.”