After cryptically teasing its pending arrival in Richmond a year ago, Jackson Ward’s latest restaurant is set to open in December.
The Rogue Gentlemen and its owner John Maher this month signed a five-year lease for the space at 618 N. First St.
Maher set out to open the planned speakeasy in March. He tried to spread the word in November 2012 with tricks like a scavenger hunt for tickets to its soft opening.
But the launch was delayed by the approval process required for historic tax credit projects on its building. Given the early hype, Maher said knows the stakes are high as the opening approaches.
“There’s been a lot of interest, and there are big expectations to fill considering we started [marketing] a long time ago,” Maher said. “But we’ve been refining our concept and our vision, and we’ve got it down to a cool science.”
The Rogue Gentlemen, Maher’s first restaurant, will serve pre-Prohibition-style cocktails and farm-to-table food. Maher recruited Aaron Hoskins, the sous chef at Secco Wine Bar, to help out in the kitchen. Maher himself has 15 years in the industry, mostly in the kitchen.
Maher, 31, said it’s going to take $120,000 to get the restaurant up and running. He expects half to come from a loan from Union First Market Bank and the other half to come from personal assets. The space is 1,500 square feet and includes a 16-by-16-foot patio.
Landlords Sandy and Allison Appelman are financing the renovations on the building. About $10,000 in building permits were filed for the property in October, according to city records.
The Appelmans bought the previously vacant property in February for $185,000. Sandy Appelman said he expects the buildout to cost $200,000. They’re financing it with loans from Essex Bank and Richmond’s Revolving Loan Fund, a program the city began in July to provide gap financing for revitalization projects. There is a two-bedroom apartment above the restaurant.
Born and raised in Powhatan, Maher returned to Richmond two years ago after working for 11 years at various restaurants in the Caribbean and Northern California. After consulting for local restaurants such as 2113 and Patina, he decided to launch his own venture.
“I’ve been noticing the progression of the restaurant scene,” Maher said. “This seemed like the right time. …I’ve seen firsthand how a restaurant can be run into the ground. I’ve seen the good and the bad at a wine bar and a Michelin two-star,” he said, referring to the restaurant rating book.
Jackson Ward’s restaurant scene has been ramping up. Max’s on Broad opened this week, and Lucy’s Restaurant at 404 N. Second St. is set to open this year.
Maher said he wants to keep prices low, ranging from around $5 for appetizers to about $21 for entrees. Although there won’t be a speakeasy at the Rogue Gentlemen when it opens, those hideaways will inspire the cocktail menu and the interior of the space. Maher said his food would be “showcasing high technique” but emphasized the importance of the bar concept to the restaurant.
“We’re a cocktail bar first,” Maher said. “A lot of restaurants focus on the food and neglect the bar. We’re a little bit of the opposite.”