Joe Gusti recalls what the neighborhood was like when he opened his Gusti Restaurant Equipment & Supply at 2923 W. Broad St. in 1992.
“It was dead,” said Gusti, a native Richmonder who started the business with his brother Tony, buying restaurant equipment and furniture from landlords and restaurant owners or through auctions. “After 5 p.m. people would clear out of here … and you definitely didn’t want to be around here at night.”
But after nearly three decades in business, change in recent years has been a constant in the neighboring Museum District and across Broad in Scott’s Addition.
“Everything has changed,” said Gusti, who handed most of the day-to-day operations of the business in recent years to his sons John and Matt.
Breweries found their way into Scott’s Addition, leading to more entertainment and residential development. Local and out-of-state investors began snapping up old row houses in the neighborhood behind him, flipping them to sell or rent to young professionals and empty nesters.
Scott’s Addition and the edge of the Museum District were on fire, and Gusti’s longtime business – a 30,000-square-foot hodgepodge of warehouse and retail space – was smack dab in the middle.
“It’s not the same neighborhood like it was before,” Joe said. “That’s a good thing, but for us, the writing was already on the wall.”
Now, the longtime family-owned business that’s become an institution to the local restaurant industry is moving its operation into Henrico County, after purchasing the 1.7-acre, 20,400- square-foot warehouse at 1901 Dabney Road last month from Alpha Stone Solutions.
Gusti paid $2.5 million for the site, according to county records. It most recently was assessed by the county for about $1.4 million.
The move was prompted by Gusti’s current landlord, Manuel Loupassi, putting the Museum District property on the market, part of a collective listing spanning nearly the entire block with a price tag of $5.5 million.
The nine-property, 0.68-acre assemblage, which also includes 2901-2921 W. Broad and 2906-2918 W. Grace streets, is under contract to an undisclosed developer. Loupassi, who is represented by broker Tony Rolando with Pollard & Bagby, could not be reached for comment.
With its pending move and reopening later this fall, John and Matt said further change is in store for the business.
“We’re looking to bring more people on board, and looking to facilitate the restaurants better,” Matt said.
That means more modernization of Gusti’s business practices, such as establishing e-commerce options for buyers to purchase items and equipment online. The firm also is exploring offering local smallware delivery for its customers.
“There’s a lot that we haven’t tapped into because this space (on Broad Street) has held us back a little,” John said. “With this new location we’re hoping to be more convenient to our customers, mainly restaurant owners, so they don’t have to come in here all the time and they can focus on their business.”
With an open warehouse format at its new Dabney Road home, John said the company will be able to showcase its equipment in a more unified space.
“We’re operating at 110 percent,” John Gusti said. “Every year is an increase at 20 to 30 percent, and we’re constantly making changes.”
Looking to further diversify its revenue, they’re planning to dive into the residential market by using part of its new showroom to highlight appliances, both used and new, and home kitchen equipment.
“When people come to our location now, they see items that they can use in their homes at the same price, if not cheaper, for equipment that is going to last longer and is of higher quality because it’s for restaurants,” John said.
The move also means a refreshed sales focus on new large restaurant equipment versus refurbished equipment sales.
“We’re always going to have refurbished equipment, but right now, we can’t find it,” John said of used restaurant equipment. “Everybody’s opening and nobody’s closing. Used inventory levels have dropped … but I may have a different story for you three years from now.”
Despite the change, the business’ core of selling a variety of new and refurbished large restaurant equipment, ranging from walk-in refrigerators to stoves to barstools and pots and pans, will remain.
“We’re going to be making some changes with the transition over to the new place, but we are going to remain true to our core business model of selling quality restaurant equipment, and delivering quality customer service … that’s never going to change,” John said.
For Gusti, moving to Henrico provides advantages, including onsite parking, a loading dock area and a chance for the family to buy into a section of the county being dubbed Scott’s Addition 2.0.
“That’s huge for us because we now own our property, and can stake our claim, so to speak, on what’s about to happen there,” John said.
Henrico leaders have put into place more flexible zoning conditions for investors and developers for 500 acres of a primarily industrial corridor west of Scott’s Addition from Westwood Avenue to Staples Mill Road.
The Gustis’ new property sits inside that designation, which is seeing robust mixed-use development as older industrial buildings are being targeted for redevelopment.
“If it gets hot, like this neighborhood, they can’t push us out because we own the property,” Joe said. “That’s important to us.”
Joe said they offered Alpha Stone a premium to ensure they could secure it. Cushman & Wakefield brokers Jim Ashby IV and Annie O’Connor represented Gusti in the Dabney deal. One South Commercial’s Lory Markham, Tom Rosman and Ann Schweitzer Riley represented the sellers.
“I offered them more than I should have to keep the people who are buying and flipping away,” Joe said. “I wanted to scare them off because (the Dabney site) was perfect for us.
“Business is business,” he said. “I just wanted to secure the space.”