click to enlarge Co-owner Lamarr Johnson founded Pig & Brew in November 2018 with his godfather Lamont Hawkins, who is known for his own Inner City Blues Takeout.

Scott Elmquist

Co-owner Lamarr Johnson founded Pig & Brew in November 2018 with his godfather Lamont Hawkins, who is known for his own Inner City Blues Takeout.

Thursday, September 8, 2022

The Money Muscle

A burgeoning Blackwell BBQ business that’s giving back as it grows.

Posted By on Thu, Sep 8, 2022 at 4:00 AM

In Richmond’s Blackwell neighborhood, Lamarr Johnson, 27, is building his food empire while hoping to provide some of the best barbecue in the city with Pig & Brew.

The city’s BBQ scene was saturated with heavy-hitting establishments, including ZZQ, Alamo, Mission, and Buzz & Neds, when Johnson opened up shop in November 2018 with his godfather, Lamont Hawkins, owner and pitmaster of Inner City Blues Takeout in the East End. Today, their 1313 Hull St. location is cranking out the kind of fall-off-the-bone barbecue that will stay in your dreams.

Johnson had the idea for Pig & Brew while working at his godfather’s restaurant and attending Old Dominion University. During weekend breaks from school, he came back to help and in exchange, Hawkins showed him the ropes of running a restaurant and taught him the recipes he’d perfected through 20 years of culinary experience. One day while drinking, as college kids are known to do, Johnson had the idea to combine his godfather’s recipes with his skills behind the bar into a restaurant that excelled at both.

He selected the Blackwell neighborhood, not to be confused with the adjacent Manchester neighborhood, as home for his business because of its charm and expected growth. "The Richmond 300 [initiative] was doing a lot of planning for this area,” Johnson recalls. “So I felt like [it would be] the next up-and-coming area, but will still maintain the feel and culture of what was already here.”

When COVID hit just a little over a year after Pig & Brew opened, Johnson had to innovate. He was one of the first to start selling take-out cocktails after Virginia ABC temporarily lifted the ban on to-go sales. Johnson says that to-go cocktail sales have been fruitful for him and “made up for not having a bar” during the height of the pandemic.

Now that Pig & Brew’s bar has reopened, you can typically find Johnson behind it, serving as chief mixologist. Or he might be out in front of the house, interacting with one of his tables chowing down on barbecue. He believes a hands-on approach to running the restaurant allows him to hone in on what people want with attention to quality.

Sweet, North Carolina-style sauce

So how does Pig & Brew set itself apart taste-wise? That would be its North Carolina style that’s a little sweet with "more of a ketchup base. As it warms up, it caramelizes a little bit,” according to Johnson. He likes to take that traditional North Carolina barbecue and fuse it with creative bar options, like his Hillbilly Fries: indulgent, loaded french fries piled high with your choice of pork or chicken barbecue, bacon and cheese.

For entrées, ribs are one of the most popular options, and Johnson likes to “leave them a little fatty, so they have a nice flavor. We smoke them for long and on low heat, [so] that they're so tender that they fall off the bone,” he says. In order to get the best deal, go for a late lunch on Wednesdays and Thursdays from 1-5 p.m. and you can get chicken or pork barbecue sandwich, fries and a drink, all for $10.

Pig & Brew offers happy hour discounted cocktails on Wednesdays through Sundays from 3-7 p.m. and check out brunch on Sundays from 11 a.m. - 3 p.m. for discounts on mimosas and some serious brunch bites, like the Hot Chick, fried chicken thighs tossed in their OMG sauce—a glaze that’s a little sweet, a little salty, and pretty much to-die-for, with French toast.

One of the most popular cocktails is The Blackwell, an ode to the neighborhood which combines Hornitos tequila, blueberry puree, simple syrup, lime juice and Sprite [Full disclosure: the author of this piece runs the RVA Happy Hours website and Pig & Brew has advertised there in the past]. The restaurant is also open for dinner on Sundays (3-8 p.m.). And burger nights happen on Wednesdays from 6-8 p.m., when you can get a burger for $6, and there is a "power hour" on Fridays from 8-9 p.m. with $8 shots of Casamigos, the tequila co-founded by actor George Clooney.

Mentoring and resources for inner city schools

But Johnson isn't just a BBQ man, he also has impressive side ventures. For starters, he’s working on getting his pilot’s license to launch a chartering service; Johnson says he co-owns a medical cargo transport service with his mom.

But of all his gigs, he’s most proud of his nonprofit, Dreamers Academy Foundation Inc., through which he “mentors and provides resources to inner city schools.” They organized a toy drive that has raised over 10,000 toys for local youth in the past three years and provided financial literacy courses for local families, in partnership with Capital One. Other programs include educational development, career development, athletic development, and community outreach.

Johnson not only wants to grow his business, he wants to cultivate community and bring the people around him with him. And he wants to do this while living up to his own personal mantra: “If you’ve got time, you’ve got time to better yourself.”

Pig & Brew is located at 1313 Hull St. and is open Wednesday-Thursday from 1-10 p.m., Friday-Saturday from 1-10 p.m. and Sundays for brunch only from 12-5 p.m.

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