Having built a following with his taco-centric food trucks, Patrick Harris is trying his hand at a more upscale venture in a long vacant property at the crossroads of Broad Street’s ongoing downtown evolution.
Harris, who owns a fleet of Boka Tako trucks, as well as Boka Tako Bar in the Fan and Southside’s Boka Grill, plans to open Antler and Fin at 506 W. Broad St. near the intersection of West Broad and North Belvidere streets. Harris said he has leased the 1,500-square-foot space that has been vacant since the restaurant Belvidere at Broad shut down in 2012.
“I’ve actually finally got to a spot where I can finance my own full-service, center-of-the-plate more upscale restaurant,” Harris said. “This is my life’s work coming together in this space.”
Harris launched the Boka brand in 2010 with a food truck. After adding more trucks and carts, he turned Boka’s commissary at 1412 Starling Drive into a brick-and-mortar eatery in 2013. The West End storefront eventually closed as Harris opened restaurants at 304 N. Robinson St. in 2014 and 2557 Sheila Lane in 2015. Harris said in addition to the storefronts the Boka operation now consists of three trailers, three trucks and an expanded catering service.
“The Boka brand is still growing,” he said.
For Antler and Fin, Harris cast a wide net in search of a restaurant building. He mentioned places like Comfort and Saison as proof that diners with extra income are hungry for downtown options.
“We’re right at the top of restaurant row,” Harris said. “We moved pretty fast once we saw it was available.”
In addition to proven demand, the area is expected to increase its foot traffic as nearby projects finish. Harris said VCU’s forthcoming Institute for Contemporary Art, a $35 million development at the corner of West Broad and North Belvidere streets, VCU’s purchase of the former Hess gas station and Douglas Development’s rehab of the former Central National Bank building will change the area for the better.
“This strip of downtown is in a revitalization period,” Harris said. “The police are cracking down and cleaning up the area. It’s a promising time for this neighborhood.”
The future home of Antler and Fin was originally going to be the site of a restaurant backed by Jonathan Staples, who has ties to nearby Graffiato and GWARbar. Staples bought 506 W. Broad St. in 2014 with plans to open a venture of his own. But the Maryland businessman said his out-of-town business and family obligations didn’t allow for enough time to develop the project so he put it up for lease last year. He said he turned down a lot of offers before signing on Antler and Fin.
“It was the first time we talked about something where I would want to go on a Saturday night,” Staples said. “It’s such an evocative name. I was struck right away by that.”
Like Harris, Staples is bullish on the future of West Broad Street downtown.
“It’s not going to be what it’s been forever,” he said. “It’s not going to be a dead zone between Comfort and Rite Aid like it is now.”