The family behind Bookbinder’s Seafood & Steakhouse are going in a whole new direction for their second concept, one that will combine an inside joke with savory dishes on Arthur Ashe Boulevard.
John and Jayme Taxin are preparing to open BigWife’s Mac n’ Cheese at 1017 N. Arthur Ashe Blvd in Scott’s Addition. The 1,200-square-foot space was previously home to Growlers To Go before the beer shop closed last fall.
While Bookbinder’s has offered upscale fare like escargot and filet mignon steaks on white table cloths in Shockoe Bottom since the early 2000s, John Taxin said BigWife’s will be nearly the exact opposite feel, offering a menu of mainly macaroni and cheese dishes and a few salads, all priced between $8 and $12.
BigWife’s began last summer as a pop-up when Taxin was trying to keep Bookbinder’s afloat during the early days of the pandemic, while also pondering a lifelong dream of his: having a restaurant that serves only one dish.
“We did takeout here, but how many lobsters can you sell for takeout?” Taxin said. “It’s so difficult to do what we do (at Bookbinder’s). There’s so much work and you have to buy so much product. My dream was to do something super-duper simple. I’d talked to my chef about that for years.”
That one dish he’d serve was the one Jayme, his wife, craved most while pregnant years ago. Jayme’s affinity for mac and cheese led to an affectionate nickname for her among their family.
“(Jayme) was the happiest pregnant lady you ever met in your life and she had a reputation in our family as a big eater. Everybody else would be dieting and she’d be chowing down when she was pregnant,” Taxin said, laughing.
“When we’d go to the doctor as she’d get larger and larger, she’d get on the scale and have this big giant smile on her face. Since my children were born, she has been nicknamed — and we don’t call her it all the time — she’s known through the family as the BigWife.”
The name was met with some apprehension from some at the restaurant, but Jayme was amused by the idea and signed off on it. “She didn’t bat an eye,” Taxin said. “She was part of the decision.”
“I said, ‘Well the best-worst thing that could happen is I’ll have to go on Good Morning America and explain why I’m using that name,” Taxin said.
As a pop-up run out of Bookbinder’s, BigWife’s fared well until Bookbinder’s was able to open with outdoor dining and a limited number of indoor tables. Business at the steakhouse picked up and Taxin didn’t have time to keep running BigWife’s regularly.
Through the winter they decided to only pop-up BigWife’s on weeknights when Bookbinder’s was less busy, selling around 50 dishes of mac and cheese each night. A sandwich board outside Bookbinder’s advertised BigWife’s, and Taxin said he’d sometimes walk up to Church Hill handing out fliers about it, but they otherwise did no marketing for BigWife’s.
Then one random Tuesday night, Taxin said, one of BigWife’s social media posts got picked up by a food blog and CBS6 aired a story on it. They quickly got more orders than they could handle.
“The chef was in the kitchen, shouting like “Shut it down!” because we could only make so many,” Taxin said, laughing. “The entire bar was filled with bags full of mac and cheese.”
The popularity prompted Taxin to consider a permanent home for BigWife’s, which led him to the old Growlers To Go building on Arthur Ashe Boulevard. He recently finalized a lease for the space, with Divaris’ Read Goode representing him in negotiations.
BigWife’s will be an exclusively to-go and delivery concept with no seating.
Its menu will include variations on mac and cheese like bacon and gruyere, hot chicken and gorgonzola, and broccoli and shiitake mushrooms. Taxin said he’s committed to limiting the number of items on the menu and their price tags.
“The nice thing about it is it’s not expensive. People asked, ‘Oh, are you going to have lobster mac and cheese?’ And I tell them no,” Taxin said.
He said he’d also like to structure the business in a way that he could serve BigWife’s at events like Flying Squirrels games, where they’d pull up with pre-made dishes and miniature ovens to heat and serve them. Beyond that, Taxin said, he also aspires to have multiple BigWife’s locations.
“I think we have the opportunity for something big,” he said.
He’s aiming to open the concept in summer 2022.
While Bookbinder’s was able to bounce back and BigWife’s found a full-time home, the effects of the pandemic still weigh heavy on Taxin.
He said a manager and chef at Bookbinder’s each had a parent die of COVID before vaccines were available, and that he still worries about the pandemic.
“My dream, and I’m somewhat a dreamer, is to have the people that are with me be a part of the future. My hope is one of these days to bring up the folks that work with me,” Taxin said.
“From the embers of the Philadelphia (Bookbinder’s location in 2002) closing, to our success here now and hopefully our future success with this new concept, I’m hoping for brighter things in the future.”