There was no stopping Richmond’s competitive dining scene this year, as 2018 seemed to bring a smorgasbord of local upstarts and new-to-market ventures to the table.
Local restaurant groups beef up
A number of local restaurant groups continued to grow their empires this year by rolling out new concepts or adding second locations for some of their established brands.
Fresh off the opening of Little Saint in the Museum District a year ago, RVA Hospitality owners Frances Santarella and Elizabeth Kincaid pounced on the vacated Graffiato location at 123 W. Broad St. to launch Bar Solita. It marks the fifth restaurant for RVA Hospitality. The group also owns Tarrant’s Cafe at 1 W. Broad St., Max’s on Broad across the street and Tarrant’s West in the West End.
Johnny and Katrina Giavos, whose many restaurant holdings include Sidewalk Café and Kuba Kuba, expanded their reach this year after converting the former Kohlman’s at 109 E. Grace St. into Richmond’s third Stella’s Market.
Work is underway on Kevin Healy’s HOUSEpitality Family’s two new restaurants between the Red Robin and H&M at Chesterfield Town Center. The mall will house Healy’s third Casa del Barco location, as well as Island Shrimp Co., a rebrand of its previously announced plan for a restaurant called Shrimp Shack.
Down in Shockoe Bottom, Carlos Londoño opened La Bodega in the former Luncheonette spot at 104 E. 18th St. It sits across the street from Londoño’s first restaurant, Margarita’s Cantina at 103 N. 18th St. He also has Mijas, which opened in February 2017 in the former La Grotta Ristorante space at 1218 E. Cary St.
Chris Tsui, owner of locally based EAT Restaurant Partners, continues to tap into some of the hottest neighborhoods in the region to grow his store count.
His latest offering will be a second Pizza & Beer of Richmond location in Hanover County, which would mark the group’s 13th restaurant.
EAT is also is preparing to roll out its second Wong Gonzalez location in the GreenGate mixed-use development in Short Pump, along with Fatty Smokes BBQ Joint on the ground floor of the former Sunny Men’s Wear building at 326 N. Broad St. In the Bottom, Tsui is working to open Hot Chicks in the former River City Diner space at 7 N. 17th St.
Latin flavor fires up Richmond
Who doesn’t love a little spice?
After a 10-month hiatus, taco shop co-owners Hamooda Shami and Nate Gutierrez opened Don’t Look Back Triple in the former Triple Lounge space at 3306 W. Broad St. in Scott’s Addition last spring, and Don’t Look Back South at 7524 Forest Hill Ave. in November.
Karina Benavides and Everardo Fonseca, owners of El Cerro Azul, a Mexican restaurant with locations in Midlothian and Powhatan, opened their third restaurant — Abuelita’s — in the former Kentucky Fried Chicken location at 6400 Midlothian Turnpike in Richmond.
Bringing her own take of traditional Mexican food to West Grace Street, local food cart veteran Raquel Gomez opened Aye Caramba in the former Kenn-Tico Cuban Bar & Grill at 204 E. Grace St.
Daniel Velasco, owner of Tres Machos Mexican Grill & Bar opened a second location in the former Delphi Greek Cuisine restaurant space at 2313 Westwood Ave. in Henrico County — nearly five years after opening his flagship location at 11521 Midlothian Turnpike near Chesterfield Town Center.
Heating up in Manchester
The Southside neighborhood’s food scene continued to grow this year. Opening at 1313 Hull St. was Pig -N- Brew Barbecue Bar, a partnership between Lamarr Johnson and Lamont Hawkins, the respective owner and pitmaster of Inner City Blues Carolina BBQ at 3015 Nine Mile Road in the East End. The duo has a third restaurant is in the works in Church Hill, but they remain mum on the concept and location.
One door down from Pig -N- Brew, Anthony “A.J.” Brewer is starting work on his 1,600-square-foot Brewer’s Waffles restaurant at 1309 and 1311 Hull St. That will add to his Brewer’s Cafe at the corner of Bainbridge and East 12th streets.
Hot Diggity Donuts, the first of several business ventures planned by Michael Hild and his wife Laura Dyer Hild of Church Hill Ventures, opened at 1213 Hull St. in the summer.
Life after college dining
Two brands that were born with Virginia colleges in mind popped up on Richmond.
Benny’s, a chain of pizza joints founded by 2006 Virginia Tech grads Chris Brown and Zach Toth, is planning to open a new restaurant dubbed Benny Affamato’s in the former Continental Divide space at 2501 W. Main St. in the Fan.
Meanwhile, JMU inspired Billy Jack’s Shack opened in the two-level, 5,000-square-foot Europa building at 1409 E. Cary St.
BizSense covered far too much interesting food news to fit on this page, so feel free to follow this link to catch up on every restaurant story from the year.