Of this group, Jenna Sneed is the newest chef and owner. She recalls from her middle-school days the budding line cooks at her famous father's restaurant, the Frog and the Redneck, many of whom have gone on to top kitchen gigs here and elsewhere. She praises her dad, Jimmy Sneed, for his love of the industry, his willingness to drive hours for a good taco or a taste of something fresh from the water. Her learning came through osmosis and determination, and her vegan eating habits formed the basis of a Fan District cafe that's meat-free but flavor-rich. Her mother and sister work in the business too. "I'm fortunate that most of my staff is my family," she says. "If you treat people right and hire good people, they'll work hard for you when they see you working hard."
Putting the dish together: When I'm tasting I'm looking to get the best flavor with the fewest ingredients and always good salt — salt brings out the natural sweetness of the food. I don't like it to be salty, but if you season at the end, it brings out the best flavors.
I'm still learning every day. It has been three years and it's getting easier, finally, but every day I'm still reading cookbooks, Googling, watching food shows, going out to eat — I'm constantly learning. I didn't know what I knew, but when I took over the famous tapioca pudding recipe, as I'm making it for the first time, I knew what this smells like — my childhood is tapioca.
Changing a meat-eating world: I'm a little confused by Richmond's lack of vegetarian and vegan restaurants. I just went to Seattle for a wedding and there were so many it was hard to choose, and I come back to Richmond and there's just a few of us. I don't know if it's because we're in the South with a lot of meat and potatoes people or what. I have to convince people to stay when they see kale pizza on the menu ... but once they eat they come back. We have regulars who come in every single day, and they tell me when they're going on vacation so I don't worry about them. A doctor sends all his patients to us.
What's selling: We do sell a lot of pizzas. We make them in whole-wheat and white dough. We make all our pitas to order, so your pita is a dough ball in the fridge and we roll it out and bake it. We sell lots of soups and cupcakes, and of course the tapioca pudding — we have people calling to make sure we have it.
Criticism is a learning process: I try to stay out of everything. I don't comment on Yelp reviews, but I answer all emails. I really just want people to eat better, dammit. I'm done with people being ignorant about ingredients. All these chain restaurants are killing me.
Multiple skill sets are required: You need to be good at everything — you need common sense, you might need to be a plumber in the middle of shift, grab a wrench to adjust a wobbling table leg, while you're cooking. I think most people that want to do a restaurant really love it, so it's not hard but it takes a lot of time. You're making all this food that you hope people will buy ... It's not like jewelry where you can sell it online for 10 years, you've gotta sell it tonight.
Intentions are pure: We love what we do, the ingredients we use ... we don't use anything with corn syrup, food coloring, preservatives. You can feel the energy here, and we love feeding people healthy food.
Interviewed by Deveron Timberlake