West End entrepreneurs draw from the family tree

A Peach in a Pear Tree is set to open. Photos by Michael Thompson.

A Peach in a Pear Tree is set to open in August. Photos by Michael Thompson.

The two new arrivals to the Libbie and Patterson retail corridor have a common inspiration: grandma knows best.

With their new eatery Lulabelle’s Café at 5714 Patterson Ave., owners Nicki and Briant Murphy were inspired by the country store Nicki’s grandmother had 35 years ago in New Kent County.

“I’d like it to be a kind of hub, like a home away from home,” Nicki Murphy said. “That was kind of what my grandma’s store was. It was a place everyone got together.”

The husband-and-wife team has a three-year lease for 1,100-square-foot space previously occupied by Karen’s Homemades. They plan to open next month.

Lulabelle’s, which comes from Nicki Murphy’s childhood nickname, will have sandwiches, soups, and salads. Roast beef, turkey, and ham will be roasted in house.  It will serve lunch and eventually add dinner service.

Nicki Murphy

Nicki Murphy

“I can’t stand deli meat,” Murphy said. “It’s going to be a little more gourmet than your average sandwich shop.”

Beer, wine, and an iced tea bar with different flavors of simple syrup will also be offered.

Murphy, 35, said she and her husband are financing the restaurant themselves.

“It’s pretty much our life savings going into this baby,” she said.

Nicki Murphy has been an event coordinator for nine years at Old City Bar in Shockoe Bottom. Briant Murphy waits tables at the restaurant Buckhead’s in the West End.

In 2012, Nicki Murphy launched Lulabelle’s Events as a catering business that does about one wedding a month. Murphy said she was originally only looking to expand her catering efforts, but the storefront on Patterson Avenue proved too good not use.

But even with a great space, Murphy said she is keeping her options open.

“I’m hoping we outgrow this space,” she said. “I’d love to have a small empire in Richmond.”

Just next door, another local operator hopes her first storefront will be as sweet for her as it was for its previous tenants.

Alicia Darnell plans to open dessert shop A Peach in a Pear Tree at 5716 Patterson Ave. in the former Shynidgz space. Darnell has a three-year lease on the 1,100 square-foot space. Shyndigz moved to a larger space in the Fan in April.

The dessert shop will sell mostly cakes along with other pastries and will open next month.

The two new shops are part of the constant churn of the Libbie–Patterson retail area. Kelley’s Gift Shop at 5601 Patterson Ave. closed in April. Fleet Feet Sports opened earlier this month at across the street.

Boyer’s Coffee and Ice Cream is vacating its spot at 5720 Patterson Ave. for a bigger space on Grove Avenue.

Darnell said she got serious about baking in 2007 when she started selling baked goods to a restaurant in Mechanicsville. At the time, she was still working in human resources.

Not far from A Peach in a Pear Tree, Lulabelle's jkflds

The Lulabelle’s Café space is just next door to A Peach in a Pear Tree.

“I started dabbling in the custom cakes, and it just grew from that point on,” she said. “Things have lined up right this year, and I decided to take the plunge and open the storefront.”

Darnell eventually launched a website and Facebook page for A Peach in a Pear Tree, and spent a season at the 17th Street Farmers’ Market in Shockoe Bottom. That led to two local television appearances and mentions in a now defunct wedding magazine.

Wedding cakes from A Peach in a Pear Tree start at $800, according to the company’s website.

“The bulk of the business comes from the wedding and custom cakes,” Darnell said.

Darnell said she has made standing clown cakes, as well as cakes shaped like handbags and Stiletto shoes.

Darnell would not say how much it will cost to open her shop but did say she is financing it herself.

She said she hopes her Southern roots will help her stand out in what is becoming a crowded local marketplace for sweets.

“I’m originally from Louisiana,” Darnell said. “There are a lot of sweet Southern recipes that come from my grandma and my aunt that we’ll be using to bring to the market.”

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