RGIII was spotted at the Tobacco Company. DeAngelo Hall has been seen at Cha Cha’s Cantina. Trent Williams apparently partook at Off the Hookah.
The Redskins may be immersing themselves in Richmond’s restaurant and club scene while in town for training camp. But their fans -- the people who are supposed to provide city businesses with an economic boon -- have remained elusive.
“It’s made us a bit slower, to be honest,” says Jami Bohdan of the Savory Grain, which is across Broad Street from the camp. “I don't think people who come to the camp are paying attention to restaurants. They grab a hot dog and are spending their money on merchandise.”
That sentiment is echoed by restaurant owners around Richmond. As of Thursday, 65,000 fans had flocked to the camp, but the owners say they have seen little impact on their businesses.
“We get a little pop at lunch, but nothing for dinner -- nada,” says Buz Grossberg, the owner of Buz and Ned’s Real Barbecue.
His restaurant on Boulevard is just around the corner from the camp, and serves the kind of food you expect would appeal to people who take a day off work to watch the Redskins practice. Instead, Grossberg says, the crowds at the camp come for the free entertainment and then go home, leaving little cash behind.
Jake Crocker owns four local restaurants, including Jorge’s Cantina on Robinson Street, where a group of merchants pitched in to operate a trolley shuttle from the camp to the restaurants along the street.
The trolley has seen little use, he says. “I can count on one hand the number of Redskins fans I’ve seen in my establishment.”
Crocker says the camp seems to be sucking business away from his restaurant. The training center includes on-site food vendors, so city residents who visit and may have otherwise eaten out end up choosing between national chains like Johnny Rockets and Famous Dave’s. Restaurant owners interviewed by Style Weekly say they were never approached about vending on site.
“We built it,” Crocker says, noting the city’s 6 percent restaurant tax goes into the general fund, which paid for the camp’s construction. “But we weren’t given access and we weren’t given the opportunity to have access. And then the negative effect is people that usually come to our establishment during the day, they’re all going out to training camp. They shop at the Redskins store and eat at Johnny Rockets and then they go home.”
Grayson Collins, the co-owner of the Strawberry Street Café, suggests the situation could be improved next year if the Redskins help promote local dining options, perhaps with a kiosk at the camp.
Tammy Hawley, a spokeswoman for the mayor’s office, says Collins’ suggestion is a good one. She says the city is looking at ways to ensure more Richmond businesses benefit from the camp in future years. The local tourism authority is surveying fans and collecting information that can be used to refine marketing approaches and help businesses maximize the camp’s potential, she says. “We’re going to try to get into the fan’s mind in terms of what they’re looking for and what kind of discounts and specials will appeal to them.”
The anecdotes provided by restaurants today might not tell the whole story, Hawley says. The city will know exactly what impact the camp has had in about a month when tax receipts are tallied.
As far as the on-site food vendors go, Hawley says the city lobbied to get local food trucks access, but were unsuccessful because the Redskins have pre-existing legal obligations to national sponsors.
“We think the fans are missing out by not having an opportunity to get this really good food,” she says “So, we’re bent on finding a way to make sure this happens.”
In the interim, restaurant owners agree that the biggest apparent beneficiary of all the camp traffic doesn’t exactly reflect Richmond’s thriving food scene: The McDonald’s next to the Children’s Museum of Richmond has been slammed every day.