While the pandemic was the defining event of the year for Richmond’s restaurant industry, resulting in the closing of dozens of local spots, plenty of local operators also continued with expansion plans.
Here’s a recap of local food news from a year that many in the industry would rather forget:
The pandemic pivot became a go-to for almost every restaurant in town this year. The government-mandated shutdown combined with patrons’ lingering fears left proprietors scrambling to find new revenue streams, shifting into a to-go-focused model and finding ways to squeeze enough tables and seats into their spaces while still maintaining social distancing.
In March, local taco joint Don’t Look Back launched a paid membership program to drive revenue while it was closed, much of it earmarked to cut checks for furloughed employees.
While delivery and takeout service became a key, some eateries leaned more heavily into the concept than others. Chesterfield County-based Charred reworked its menu to be more delivery-friendly when it first opened in the early days of the pandemic. Chez Foushee, which stayed closed for the bulk of the year, unveiled a new menu tailored to delivery when it reopened in December.
Some restaurants added or expanded retail arms to navigate the pandemic. Gelati Celesti recently announced a pop-up location that sells prepackaged products like pints and quarts of ice cream in Hanover County. Nota Bene switched from a restaurant to a market concept, though it ultimately shuttered.
Others in the restaurant world settled on the “ghost kitchen” concept as a lower-cost way to run their businesses without the need for a dining room. Kevin Liu turned his Carytown restaurant The Jasper into a ghost kitchen, a concept that Jefferson Hotel chef Seth Goulston leveraged to launch his new restaurant concept Field to Fire this year.
The Giavos family, whose holdings include Kuba Kuba and Little Nickel, signed on to open the Continental Manchester, a Southside spinoff of its popular Libbie Grove area Continental Westhampton. The group is also planting a Stella’s Market in a former Starbucks space just down the block from the Continental Westhampton.
Also in the Southside, the city looks like it’s finally set to get its first food hall as Hatch Local prepares to open next year in The Current. And down in Midlothian, the family behind Lalo’s Cocina in the Fan opened Two Compadre’s Taqueria Bar & Grill.
The owners of The Pit and The Peel juice bar and En Su Boca taco shop both locked down new spots near VCU. The Pit and The Peel is renovating an old print building for a new location that’ll be complete with a rooftop patio. En Su Boca secured the former Roxy Café, where they’re planning a similar Tex-Mex concept.
Others in the area took the leap and started their own brand new restaurants.
Mike Lindsey was a longtime executive at EAT Restaurant Partners, which owns more than a dozen local spots including Fat Dragon and Foo Dog. Lindsey stepped out on his own this year to launch Lillie Pearl downtown, a New American concept with North African flare.
A little further east, Lorna Bedford, the daughter of the “Mom” of Mom’s Siam, is opening her own new spot in the former Citizen space. Bedford’s new spot is called Native Plate and will offer Thai and Vietnamese street food.
The Fan landed a new wing spot in The Cocky Rooster, as owner Brett Diehl breathed new life into a space that’d been vacant near West Main and North Robinson streets. TBT El Gallo, a Mexican takeout spot, is taking over the old Naked Onion space.
Passing the torch
Richmond saw a higher-than-usual amount of restaurants sold in 2020, some of which were longtime favorites.
Two 23-year-old restaurants west of Arthur Ashe Boulevard went under new ownership: Bandito’s Burrito Lounge and The Dairy Bar.
The slightly younger, 15-year-old Can Can Brasserie in Carytown was sold to a pair of brothers who’ve worked at the restaurant for years. Others that sold this year include Liberty Public House in Church Hill and Yellow Umbrella Provisions in the West End.
In a year where takeout and delivery reigned supreme, there was plenty of news about the queen of all takeout dishes: pizza.
Some of the locally-owned new spots coming out of 2020 included: Hot For Pizza, a spot in Carver from the Cobra Cabana guys; Pizza Bones RVA, a forthcoming pizzeria in Union Hill from first-time owner Ashley Patino; and Mommiana’s Dough, a new Shockoe spot from local restaurateur Ashley Ramsey.
Zorch Pizza, a popular local pizza food truck, grabbed a slice of Carytown where owner Rob Zorch is planning his first brick-and-mortar spot, and Billy Pie found its way back to a brewery in Basic City Beer Co. Billy Pie had formerly operated out of Triple Crossing Beer’s Fulton taproom.
The national pizza chains stayed busy locally as well.
Two D.C.-based pizzerias, Paisano’s Pizza and &pizza, each opened locations near VCU, and &pizza’s adding a second in Willow Lawn. The West End also bid adieu to the longtime Pizza Hut near Westhampton.
If you haven’t had your fill of looking back on this year’s restaurant news, click here to scroll the rest of BizSense’s coverage of the industry.