Philadelphia native Hassan Abdus-Salaam was introduced to Richmond as a child when he visited his grandmother in Church Hill.
He eventually moved here as a teen and graduated from Armstrong High School before kicking off a 25-year career as a chef, including opening cheesesteak spot Str8 Out Of Philly in Church Hill in 2011, before closing it in 2015.
Now, Abdus-Salaam and Str8 Out Of Philly are coming back to Richmond.
This spring he plans to open a two-in-one restaurant concept using that same brand, this time in Jackson Ward at 407 N. First St.
“I’m going to have two restaurants in one,” he said. “I’ll have cheesesteaks and hoagies on one side, and the other will be Str8 Out Of Philly Cafe where I’ll bring breakfast and lunch.”
Abdus-Salaam said the idea struck him after he happened upon the new spot on First Street by chance last year.
“I noticed it when I was coming out of the barber shop. I saw the building and it just caught my interest,” he said. “It’s a really nice area. Jackson Ward is up-and-coming and I thought, you know what, this is a good opportunity.”
He said he’s under contract to purchase the 101-year-old building from Barksdale Haggins, who owns the nearby, long-running Barky’s Record Shop.
Abdus-Salaam’s resume includes working in catering and as a personal chef, and rubbing elbows with some big names.
“I’ve done a lot of work with celebrities. I’ve been (former Philadelphia Eagles quarterback) Donovan McNabb’s personal chef and I’ve cooked with Janet Jackson,” he said.
One of the stars of the menu at Str8 Out Of Philly will be the hoagies. Abdus-Salaam said he’ll have proteins beyond just steak to go on the rolls, including chicken, salmon and vegan options, and that he’ll have the usual toppings associated with Philly cheesesteaks like fried onions and sweet peppers.
On the café side, he said everything will be from scratch. In addition to soups, salads and sandwiches, he’ll offer espresso and coffee. And everything in his shop will be halal.
What will set Str8 Out Of Philly’s hoagies apart, Abdus-Salaam said, is the bread he’ll use.
“My bread’s going to be coming from Philadelphia. That’s what makes it different,” Abdus-Salaam said. “I really want to bring the authentic Philly cheesesteak. Amoroso’s is the brand of the bread I’ll use.”
Str8 Out Of Philly will use all 3,000 square feet in the two-story building, with plans to convert the upstairs into an event space.
“I thought it’d be nice to have a small space for things like showers and birthday parties. It’ll fit about 40 or 50 people,” Abdus-Salaam said.
The restaurant will be the new neighbor of GoodPeeples Studios. Joe Jaeger has operated the recording studio there for years and purchased the studio’s building at 409 N. First St. last June for $300,000.
Jaeger said he’s also recently expanded to Los Angeles, where he opened a GoodPeeples location.