Friday, July 26, 2019

The Black Waffle

Ajay Brewer’s latest venture combines milkshakes and waffles while representing the culture of Blackwell.

Posted By on Fri, Jul 26, 2019 at 2:45 PM

The first black waffle attempt came out cakey. And if you’re talking technicalities, it was a Belgian waffle.

“No, these are black waffles,” reiterates Josh Reed, co-owner and chef of Brewer’s Waffles, which opened July 14.

He gives an abrupt chuckle, but he’s serious. His combination of multiple recipes and final product — tried and tested by expert critics, commonly known as his wife and son — is an ode to Blackwell, a predominantly black South Side neighborhood Reed says faces culture erasure.

Ajay Brewer, owner of Brewer’s Cafe and Brewer’s Waffles, encourages him to continue. He points to the back of the t-shirt worn by investor and longtime friend James Harris that says “A Better Waffle, A Better Experience.”

“We’re going to make it something bigger than a waffle,” Reed says, reflecting on Belgium’s colonization and bloody massacres in the Congo. “So many people are profiting off the destruction of our culture that we got to set examples that we’re able to profit off the uplift of our culture.”

So yes, Reed says, Brewers Waffles are black waffles. And a conversation starter. The Well, an art space adjacent to the waffles and milkshakes shop, is both a gallery representing local artists and a platform for public forums on difficult topics, such as mental health and trauma.

For Reed, Brewer and Harris, this nook on Hull Street serves an important purpose: It gives people an excuse to not leave South Side.

“Food equalizes it all.” Brewer says. “Put it in front of me. We’re going to all eat at the same time.”

Reed nods. Constructing the menu was about simplicity and keeping it approachable. While Brewer prefers a classic plain waffle, Reed opts for his secret menu and makes a waffle sandwich. Harris goes for the Munford, which features Granny Smith apples, craisins, lemon zest and caramel.

There’s the option to build your own, starting with a traditional, cornbread or gluten-free waffle. Toppings include things like vegan sausage, fried eggs and peanut butter cups, with both savory and sweet sauces such as a Nutella drizzle and Hollandaise.

When it came to naming the waffles, Brewer wanted to celebrate Richmond.

“It was first around the streets, but some of these streets are named after some pretty shitty people,” Brewer says. “If you owned slaves, I don’t give a fuck about what you did in life, you’re not a good person.”

Ultimately, he settled on Richmond Public Schools, such as Blackwell, Holton and Armstrong. Don’t expect to find Thomas Jefferson on the list.

As for the milkshakes, the ice cream is sourced from Scoop RVA, with mix-ins including fruit, Snickers bars and Cinnamon Toast Crunch. Reed’s next step, inspired by the concept of taking a box of doughnuts into work, is to make mini waffles available by the dozen.

Brewer turns around his “The Flash” hat, which he borrowed from his son that morning, and adds that family remains central to everything they do. In an Instagram promotional video, Brewer turns to his son, Parker, and says “You’re going to be a huge part of it.”

Parker is a Brewer’s Waffles partner, owns six candy stands and plans to bike 40 miles to raise money for the Blackwell parent teacher association. He’s 4 years old.

As Brewer looks around, he counts eight black-owned businesses on this block alone and grins.

So what does that mean for them?


Brewer’s Waffles

1311 Hull St.


Mondays - Thursdays 7 a.m. - 10 p.m.

Fridays 7 - 12 a.m.

Saturdays 8 - 12 a.m.

Sundays 7 a.m. - 10 p.m.


Thursday, July 18, 2019

Raising the Bar

Recluse Roasting Project wants to make coffee more engaging.

Posted By on Thu, Jul 18, 2019 at 4:00 AM

“For some weird reason, ever since I was 12, I wanted to open my own cafe,” says Aimee Biggerstaff, one of those people whose passion for her work is palpable.

She could wax poetic all day about crafting and drinking the perfect cup of coffee, and after more than 15 years in the industry, she’s well on her way to living out those plans she detailed in her middle school journal.

Along with business partners Russell Durfee and Jack Fleming, who’s also her romantic partner, Biggerstaff is in the process of building out the space for Recluse Coffee Bar and Roastery, a European-style coffee shop in Scott’s Addition. It won’t be the cozy, “Friends”-style venue with plush couches and communal coffee tables Biggerstaff envisioned in the ‘90s, but it will be something Richmond hasn’t seen before.

Called a coffee bar, Recluse will be exactly that — a bar, but with coffee. Guests will sidle up to the semi-circle-shaped counter and order the same way they would at a traditional bar. Baristas will interact directly with guests, much like bartenders, using multiple tablets to run cards instead of a stationary cash register. Seating will be minimal, with standing room only at the bar and a couple high tables next to the windows.

“We wanted to see if we could do something different, have things set up in a way where if it was a quick takeaway service it’ll be fast and out the door, but also offer someone a beautiful service for here,” Biggerstaff says. “You can stand at the bar and read the paper, or stand there and have a conversation with someone else who’s at the bar. We want to try to create a space that’s more about engagement.”

Biggerstaff says she and her partners were inspired by cafes they visited in their travels, and they’ve seen this approach work in cities all over the world.

“It’s this throwback, that simple idea of walking up to a bar and the bartender greets you, without this whole to-do of lining up,” she says. “We also know, having been in the industry for so long, that it’s hard to break customers of habits. We’ve been taught to line up, so it’s going to be on us and our experience to really confidently guide people through the space.”

The goal is for the bar, at 2904 W. Moore St., to open its doors in September. The owners are doing the hands-on work themselves — Biggerstaff learned to pour concrete a few hours before interviewing for this story — while still roasting and distributing coffee around town.

Bags of Recluse Roasting Project beans are available online and at local retailers such as the Butterbean Market and Cafe, Union Market and Outpost Richmond, and you can find brewed cups of coffee at Pomona Plants and Sugar and Twine. The team also sells beans, beverages and Recluse merchandise at the pop-up farmers market at the Veil Brewing Co. — they’ll be there every other Sunday from July 28 to September 22.

Recluse Roasting Project

1310 Altamont Ave.


Saturday, July 13, 2019

Smoothie Spinoff

A year after launching her food truck, Pulp Fiction owner Ruslana Remennikova opens a brick-and-mortar shop with coffee, sandwiches and pastries.

Posted By on Sat, Jul 13, 2019 at 6:27 PM

Ruslana Remennikova has been told she walks like a ’90s era Uma Thurman — specifically the “Kill Bill Vol. 2” Uma, who punches out the coffin’s roof after being buried alive and proceeds to stalk angrily through the cemetery’s shadows.

But Remennikova’s gait is more of a bounce. Each step across the checkerboard tiles of her recently opened business venture, Pulp Fiction Lakeside, reads as intentional.

It’s how she leads her life. She’s a Quentin Tarantino fan because his movies follow that same purposeful energy. Despite this, Remennikova says Pulp Fiction is about her dream of selling cold-pressed juice, not the movie.

“[It’s] what I imagined the juice line to be called,” she says.

It’s been more than a year since she left her corporate chemist job to jumpstart a tinted-teal smoothie truck of the same name. Inspired by the tucked-away coffee scene in Barcelona, she found the perfect spot in January and knew a brick-and-mortar shop was the next step.

“This is the vision that I saw,” she says, reflecting on the five-month renovation. “There’s some magic in there that I can’t explain.”

The wood is an homage to Remennikova’s love for earthy tones, while a white penny tile wall accentuates the 420 square-foot shop. When she first found it, there was only a double oven on the left-hand side.

Whether it be the items on the menu or the European-inspired succulent plants that rest atop the perimeter of wooden shelves, everything has a story.

“I went to Sardinia with two friends and worked on an olive field for three weeks,” Remennikova says. “It was more than just an olive oil project. It was ‘How do we interact with each other? How are we helping each other? What are we really doing?’”

In comes the Sardinian, a tomato spread, anchovy and olive combination on a New York bagel. The Israeli, complete with hummus, olives and feta, speaks to her Jewish background while the Ukrainian, with provolone cheese and kielbasa, honors her family’s migration from Eastern Europe.

The coffee, which includes a signature Ru’s Brew, is supplied by Legacy Roasting Co., while locally baked pastries come from WPA Bakery. Her personal go-to smoothie, Legacy — containing spinach, golden raisins and bananas — is inspired by her father, with Bear Claw being a fan-favorite due to the espresso beans and gritty texture.

Although smoothies remain at its core, Pulp Fiction Lakeside values balance. She says having a healthy relationship with food is about owning what you eat.

“We support doughnuts,” she says excitedly, noting their presence on the menu. “I actually want to put that on a shirt.”

Reflecting on the past few years, she attributes her strength and growth to her dad, who died shortly after they completed an Olympic-length triathlon in 2016.

“It devastated me. I felt like I was robbed,” Remennikova says of losing her best friend. “But I always say he’s around because he is … I’m living through his energy.”

Dealing with adversity provides everyone with a decision, Remennikova says, have a negative outlook or improve your quality of life. She chooses the latter every day, saying it’s the route her dad, a funny, light-up-the-room guy, would choose — perhaps with an apple fritter in hand.

“I’m not a celebrity,” she says. “But I just feel like me providing a healthy smoothie makes someone happy. Or a yummy Mediterranean wrap. ‘Whoa, this is great, thanks.’ OK, that’s already a good response, and I’m happy with that.”

Pulp Fiction Lakeside

5411 Lakeside Ave.


Mondays - Fridays 7 a.m.- 3 p.m.

Saturdays 8 a.m. - 4 p.m.


Monday, July 1, 2019

Coffee-to-Wine Pipeline

With Fuel Pump, a New York couple brings an all-day work and social concept to Carytown.

Posted By on Mon, Jul 1, 2019 at 3:00 PM

Loki, named after the Norse god of mischief, sits idly in the high-top metallic chair closest to the bronzed La Marzocco coffee machines, his 6-year-old feet dangling above camo blue Gap flip-flops on the floor. He's used to keeping preoccupied at the bar top.

It's nearing the lunching hour at Fuel Pump, a coffee-station and wine-bar hybrid that celebrated its debut in Carytown on June 7. Since the panini set to be rolled out on the menu are still in the works, co-owner Mary Dail offers her son a buttery slice of toast.

Loki seems satisfied.

Dail has yet to find her favorite in the panini trial runs, noting that she's a hot-sauce-on-hot-wings kind of gal and they're not spicy enough. Andreas Waltenburg, the co-owner and her husband, interjects to agree that "food is merely a vessel for hot sauce."

Fuel Pump's Instagram account teases dishes for those with tamer taste buds, such as homemade hummus paired with bagels, ricotta toast with drizzles of honey and avocado radish toast placed strategically on a wooden cutting board — an homage to Dail's days as a photo editor at Martha Stewart Living. Dail looks forward to expanding the menu, especially for charcuterie fanatics.

"We have an idea of what we want to do but we want to be open to what people are receptive to, what they'd like to see," Dail says. "Because it'll be their spot."

Dail, having finished the layout and decor, is already prepared for her next project: refurbishing the patio into a community event space. In the coming months, she hopes to hold oyster roasts, Saturday morning cartoons for the kids, taco nights and, once the liquor license comes in, her husband's "badass margaritas."

But for now, the couple plans to fine-tune what made them start this shop and make the trek from the concrete jungle of New York: Coffee and wine.

"Every day, I find myself on the coffee-to-wine pipeline," Dail says as she picks up her daily iced cortado. "I would have coffee in the morning and wine at night. … No one says 'Hey want to meet up for a water?' You usually say 'Want to grab a cup of coffee?' or 'Want to have a drink?'"

For Waltenburg, many of his connections started with drinks. To him, Fuel Pump's 7 a.m. to 11 p.m. schedule makes sense. "People are coming in, having a bite, having a coffee, and then all of a sudden, it's 4 o'clock and they're like 'OK, let's have a beer.' And they continue to work," he says.

Working-hour favorites include the couple's favorite coffee brand, Intelligentsia, in espresso, drip and iced form. It sold out in the first two weeks. As for the 15 wines? Waltenburg, who's been in the food and drink industry for more than 20 years, just goes for what he likes.

"I love wine," he says. "And a long time ago, I was working for someone who told me, 'Just F what everyone else is saying' … so we just make it fun and find something for everybody."

Fuel Pump has become their heart and soul, with Dail saying it's "mom-and-pop by every sense of the word."

Since Waltenburg still owns his bar in New York and Dail runs a photo studio, with another in the works, their days are far from typical.

But with a few espresso shots, it's doable.

Fuel Pump
3200 W. Cary St.
Daily 7 a.m. – 11 p.m.

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