Cafe Beignet RVA taking over shuttered Carmela’s spot in Shockoe Bottom

The former Carmela’s space in Shockoe Bottom is becoming Cafe Beignet RVA. (Mike Platania photo)

A Shockoe Bottom restaurant space is swapping a brick oven for deep fryers as a Cajun beignet food truck goes brick-and-mortar.

Cafe Beignet RVA has signed on to open in the former Carmela’s space at 3 N. 17th St. near the 17th Street Farmers Market. Brittany Williams is behind the concept, which will be a new stationary offshoot of the mobile fried pastry business she’s had on the road locally since last year.

Brittany Williams

Williams, a self-described military brat, said she spent stretches of her childhood in Louisiana and Mississippi with her mother’s family, where she learned Cajun cooking from a young age.

“I’ve been cooking since I was literally out of the womb,” she said. “We all are very rooted in food. That’s the topic of all events and gatherings.”

After studying pastries and baking at The Art Institute of Fort Lauderdale, Williams said she took jobs in the medical field and at the Defense Commissary Agency. She worked in those fields for over a decade but always held onto the idea of eventually opening her own food business.

“I knew I’d get to this point someday, it was just very hard to get there,” Williams said. “After working for a while, I said, ‘OK, it’s time to take that leap of faith and start the business.’”

Williams’ food truck first rolled out in early 2021, and her beignets were well enough received that by last spring she left her job at Johnston-Willis Hospital to operate Cafe Beignet RVA full-time.

However, despite being able to focus solely on the food truck, the warmer temperatures presented an unexpected challenge.

“In the summer, oh my gosh. The heat and the humidity makes my dough rise like biscuits. They get huge and very difficult to handle. I was having to put ice under each tray of beignets,” Williams said, laughing.

“People don’t know even half of the struggles that I had to go through. I’d get up at 1 a.m. or 2 a.m. every morning to make the dough because it’s a long process and I had to make so many.”

With the new, roughly 1,100-square-foot space, Williams said she can now get started at normal bakers’ hours of about 4 a.m.

Williams is also planning to expand the menu to include Cajun dishes like gumbo and red beans and rice for lunch and dinner at her restaurant. She said she’s also planning to be open a little later on weekends and offer Sunday brunch.

The deep-fried pastries are often dusted with powdered sugar. Cafe Beignet offers pumpkin pie and apple
fritter variations. (Courtesy of Brittany Williams)

One South Commercial’s Ann Schweitzer-Riley worked the lease that put Cafe Beignet RVA in the space. It was left vacant last year by Carmela’s when the pizza joint closed after about two years in business. Williams said the space is in pretty good shape and only needs some new equipment and aesthetic renovations.

“They’re removing the brick-fire oven, and I have to replace the fryers and mixers and all that stuff,” Williams said.

Williams said Cafe Beignet RVA is self-funded with no outside investors or lenders. She is, however, looking to crowd-fund part of the renovation cost through a GoFundMe that’s looking to raise $20,000.

Cafe Beignet RVA is aiming to open in April, and Williams said the brick-and-mortar’s opening won’t spell the end for the food truck. In addition to some festivals and weddings she’s signed on for, Williams said she wants to continue hitting the suburbs, the areas she said really helped her build the business.

“The HOAs (homeowner’s associations) have really been my bread and butter. They’ve really kept me afloat. I don’t want to completely abandon them.”

Cafe Beignet RVA is the latest in a flurry of local food trucks to go brick-and-mortar in recent months.

Redemption BBQ and Thai Won On each recently opened locations at the Shops at Wellesley near Short Pump, and in the Fan Westray’s Finest Ice Cream is preparing to open at 214 N. Lombardy St.

The former Carmela’s space in Shockoe Bottom is becoming Cafe Beignet RVA. (Mike Platania photo)

A Shockoe Bottom restaurant space is swapping a brick oven for deep fryers as a Cajun beignet food truck goes brick-and-mortar.

Cafe Beignet RVA has signed on to open in the former Carmela’s space at 3 N. 17th St. near the 17th Street Farmers Market. Brittany Williams is behind the concept, which will be a new stationary offshoot of the mobile fried pastry business she’s had on the road locally since last year.

Brittany Williams

Williams, a self-described military brat, said she spent stretches of her childhood in Louisiana and Mississippi with her mother’s family, where she learned Cajun cooking from a young age.

“I’ve been cooking since I was literally out of the womb,” she said. “We all are very rooted in food. That’s the topic of all events and gatherings.”

After studying pastries and baking at The Art Institute of Fort Lauderdale, Williams said she took jobs in the medical field and at the Defense Commissary Agency. She worked in those fields for over a decade but always held onto the idea of eventually opening her own food business.

“I knew I’d get to this point someday, it was just very hard to get there,” Williams said. “After working for a while, I said, ‘OK, it’s time to take that leap of faith and start the business.’”

Williams’ food truck first rolled out in early 2021, and her beignets were well enough received that by last spring she left her job at Johnston-Willis Hospital to operate Cafe Beignet RVA full-time.

However, despite being able to focus solely on the food truck, the warmer temperatures presented an unexpected challenge.

“In the summer, oh my gosh. The heat and the humidity makes my dough rise like biscuits. They get huge and very difficult to handle. I was having to put ice under each tray of beignets,” Williams said, laughing.

“People don’t know even half of the struggles that I had to go through. I’d get up at 1 a.m. or 2 a.m. every morning to make the dough because it’s a long process and I had to make so many.”

With the new, roughly 1,100-square-foot space, Williams said she can now get started at normal bakers’ hours of about 4 a.m.

Williams is also planning to expand the menu to include Cajun dishes like gumbo and red beans and rice for lunch and dinner at her restaurant. She said she’s also planning to be open a little later on weekends and offer Sunday brunch.

The deep-fried pastries are often dusted with powdered sugar. Cafe Beignet offers pumpkin pie and apple
fritter variations. (Courtesy of Brittany Williams)

One South Commercial’s Ann Schweitzer-Riley worked the lease that put Cafe Beignet RVA in the space. It was left vacant last year by Carmela’s when the pizza joint closed after about two years in business. Williams said the space is in pretty good shape and only needs some new equipment and aesthetic renovations.

“They’re removing the brick-fire oven, and I have to replace the fryers and mixers and all that stuff,” Williams said.

Williams said Cafe Beignet RVA is self-funded with no outside investors or lenders. She is, however, looking to crowd-fund part of the renovation cost through a GoFundMe that’s looking to raise $20,000.

Cafe Beignet RVA is aiming to open in April, and Williams said the brick-and-mortar’s opening won’t spell the end for the food truck. In addition to some festivals and weddings she’s signed on for, Williams said she wants to continue hitting the suburbs, the areas she said really helped her build the business.

“The HOAs (homeowner’s associations) have really been my bread and butter. They’ve really kept me afloat. I don’t want to completely abandon them.”

Cafe Beignet RVA is the latest in a flurry of local food trucks to go brick-and-mortar in recent months.

Redemption BBQ and Thai Won On each recently opened locations at the Shops at Wellesley near Short Pump, and in the Fan Westray’s Finest Ice Cream is preparing to open at 214 N. Lombardy St.

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LARS DANCE
LARS DANCE
4 months ago

“Shuttered” is the operative word in shockoe bottom for any business attempting to survive there.

I’ll give this one a year, before they realize they’ve chosen the wrong spot, unless they like the smell of urine, no customers being able to park, rampant crime after dark, and an area where no one outside that area would ever venture again. Make sure you’re wearing your mask, or you may be assaulted by any number of business owners in this miserable, dour, angry area where the Sun never seems to shine

Jay levine
Jay levine
3 months ago
Reply to  LARS DANCE

Gosh give it a rest man, this is a business magazine not FB.

Jackson Joyner
Jackson Joyner
3 months ago
Reply to  LARS DANCE

Lars,
Are you actually a bot that generates slobbering, right-wing word salads in response to every positive story in the city?

Chris Crews
Chris Crews
3 months ago
Reply to  LARS DANCE

Sweet! More beignets for moi!

Shani Dani
Shani Dani
4 months ago

It’s always people like you who probably can’t afford anything from self owned businesses, who probably tried to get the spot and couldn’t or business that failed that always have something negative to say. What didn’t work for someone does not mean it won’t work for all. Bet you go by there to try something off her menu. lol.

Jeff Ensley
Jeff Ensley
4 months ago

Very excited to try this place out. After visiting New Orleans I became a huge fan of beignets and I think this will be a great location. The 17th St Farmers Market area is coming into its own and has a fantastic vide now that it’s pedestrian only.

Donald White
Donald White
3 months ago
Reply to  Jeff Ensley

My wife and I are headed back to New Orleans in May actually. So we look forward to trying this local spot out for sure. Good luck and much success to her in this endeavor. Beignet OK! LOL

Robbie Asplund
Robbie Asplund
4 months ago

A chicory coffee and a hot beignet could really make me flash back to sitting on the patio at Cafe Gutenburg – that place rules. Really looking forward to checking this place out.

Tracey Harvey
Tracey Harvey
3 months ago

Love to see this! Congrats

charles Frankenhoff
charles Frankenhoff
3 months ago

any idea when it will open?