Starting from Scratch 

Terri Gauman’s dream of opening a neighborhood restaurant has become a reality. Now comes the hard part.

At the start, all went well. Terri found a shell building in a new strip mall in the Commonwealth Centre, across Hull Street Road from the entrance to Brandermill, and David, a commercial contractor who had built several restaurants, completed the interior.

The funkiness began when Terri found a huge chandelier from India at the sprawling Green Front Furniture Store in Farmville. It is festooned with monkeys, giraffes, tigers and elephants climbing around in a palm tree, which is illuminated by a dozen palm-shaped lamp shades. With that, the décor was set. At a restaurant trade show in Chicago, Terri found monkey lamps for the tables, and soon there were palm trees, primates and replicas of pelts everywhere, including some etched into the windows, upholstered in the chairs and framed in posters in the restrooms.

Seasons opened in June 2002 and it caught on. Business was good — Terri now thinks of that summer as the honeymoon period. But at the start of this year, once a month, a new chain restaurant opened nearby. Suddenly the area was no longer starved for places to eat, and business fell off. What makes things worse, the restaurant that is hurting Seasons the most is a Cracker Barrel, which Terri’s three children love.

Terri, who had no previous experience in business but who loves to cook and entertain, now realizes her expectations were unrealistic. She thought she would be able to hire good help, continue to be a stay-at-home mom during the day and work in the restaurant at night.

All of this could turn out to be a Cinderella story, if the food were great. But it’s just OK, though it may get better with the recent hiring of Ryan Walsh, a young chef.

The menu is, like the 250-seat restaurant itself, large and ambitious — seafood, steaks, chicken, pasta and sandwiches — perhaps too much so.

A twin crab-cake sandwich ($12) was properly pan-seared and distinguished from the ordinary by a cucumber-lime sauce, and a special appetizer of blackened scallops ($7) was nicely crusted and very spicy.

But a catch-of-the-day rockfish ($15) was dry and overcooked, and lacking in the advertised lemon-butter sauce and Old Bay seasoning.

Plenty of Old Bay found its way onto the spiced shrimp ($16 a pound, $8 a half), which was good; what was not good was the failure of our young waitress — most of the staff looks too young to serve a drink — to bring extra napkins for the good but messy offering.

A chef’s salad ($10) and a Caesar salad ($6) were both ample and full of variety. Likewise, a bacon cheeseburger ($10) was plump and juicy, and accompanied by a pasta salad.

Seasons is perfectly suited for the whole family. The booths are spacious, each seating six adults comfortably, and the jungle theme provides a nice distraction for little ones. Wednesday is family night, and at half the normal $7 price, there is a three-course children’s meal (entrée choices of popcorn chicken or shrimp, spaghetti, macaroni and cheese, grilled cheese and hot dog, plus drink and dessert). Tuesday night burgers are half-price, too.

At the all-you-can-eat Sunday brunch ($15 for adults, $8 for children) Seasons will donate 10 percent of the check to the church of your choice. So the next time you are in church, you may want to pray that Terri’s dream comes true. S

Don Baker has been reviewing restaurants since he retired as Richmond bureau chief for The Washington Post in ’99. He has worked as a waiter and maitre-d’ and has a dining Web site, diningpro.com. He previously reviewed restaurants for Style in the late ’80s.

Seasons South of the James ($$$)
5000 Commonwealth Centre Parkway, Midlothian
739-5000
Lunch and dinner: Monday-Saturday 11 a.m.-11 p.m., Sunday 10 a.m.-9 p.m.
Sunday brunch: 10 a.m.-1:30 p.m.

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