The first to close was The Farmhouse at 1840 Manakin-Sabot Road. The 150-year-old house has operated as a restaurant for many years and was formerly known as the Foxhead Inn. After a number of ownership changes, in 2007 it was purchased by New Jersey transplant Ronnie Lower, who moved here with her husband to be closer to their daughter and her family.
Lower moved into the upstairs of the house and operated a high-end steak and seafood restaurant on the first floor. At the time, conditions were ideal. Business was booming, and nearby Kinloch and Hermitage country clubs kept big-spending customers coming through its doors.
But then the bottom dropped out.
“We were expecting to double our business during the second year, and it just didn’t seem to grow,” Lower said. “We booked fewer weddings and fewer business parties.”
Even though the average household income in the area exceeds $100,000, fewer customers were coming through the door. Entrees cost around $30.
In July, Lower made the tough decision to shut down rather than continue to pour her own money into it or to find a partner.
The 1.77-acre property is for sale for $650,000 and is listed with Pete Waldbauer and Millard Jones of Thalhimer.
“It had a good clientele with wealthier people out that way going to the country club ordering high dollar tickets,” said Waldbauer. “But then the world came to an end like it did for everyone.”
Waldbauer said he now trying to market the property to established restaurateurs with some local name recognition but so far hasn’t had any takers.
“It needs someone with a local Richmond name who would come in and basically be the draw,” Waldbauer said. “A lot of the characters have their own groupies that will follow them anywhere.”
He also said the next buyer may not want to run a restaurant at all, but could buy it just to live in.
And The Farmhouse isn’t the only Goochland restaurant to fall by the wayside.
The Edible Garden, on River Road, has been serving up meals with local ingredients, including a few from the restaurant’s own patch, for the past five years. But last week the restaurant – one of the first to cater to earth-conscious locavores – delivered its last dish.
“We came out with a mission to bring awareness to local food to Richmond and the community, [and] we felt like we had done that,” said owner Molly Harris. “Then other restaurants picked up on the theme, supporting local farmers. That really was our goal.”
Harris said business was great for the first couple of years, but since the economy collapsed, things haven’t been the same.
“It was last fall when we definitely saw a change in the numbers. People were splitting meals at dinner and cutting back,” Harris said.
Harris closed for the winter and reopened in the spring. She said that the spring reopening produced a strong showing but that the numbers started to decline again as summer faded into fall.
“We were seeing that this might be a pattern,” Harris said on her final decision to close the restaurant and sell the converted house that it called home.
That one-acre property is listed with Jim McVey at Commonwealth Commercial for $550,000.
Both Lower and Harris have decided to step away from running restaurants, and both have moved onto new ventures.
Lower said she and a friend are launching a catering business, Ronnie and Joni’s Kitchen, delivering boxed lunches to businesses. So far, she said, she has been hired by Capital One and is hoping to expand to other companies in West Creek.
She is also packaging and selling a carrot cake mix using a recipe that was big seller at The Farmhouse.
“It’s the best around,” she said. “That’s why we packaged it. People said they wanted the recipe.”
The mix is available at the Nadolski’s Butcher Shop, but Lower said she is working on getting it onto more store shelves. A $7 bag of mix makes 12 servings.
Meanwhile, Harris is focusing on a farm co-op program she started last winter called Lulu’s Local Food. The co-op has pick-up locations around Richmond and serves 500 customers, she said.
Al Harris covers the restaurant business for BizSense. Please send news tips to [email protected]