You can find almost anything in Carytown, from locally made goods to imports from distant countries. The neighborhood’s retailers and restaurateurs create a global melting pot along Cary Street. Here is a sampling of six entrepreneurs who have set up shop in Carytown.
Patricia Guillouard, owner, CaryTown Teas
Patricia Guillouard, owner of CaryTown Teas, calls Richmond a “sister city” to her hometown of Paris. Both are cities with strong histories and distinct neighborhoods where people can live, work, shop and get to know one another. “I’m a neighborhood person,” she says, noting that she often walks from her home on the Boulevard to her business on the western end of Carytown.
Guillouard came to love tea through her grandmother, and now shares not only its many flavors with customers, but also its health benefits, derived from herbs and special blends. “It’s wonderful to drink a cup of tea in the morning that makes you feel good,” she says.
In addition to educating people about tea, Guillouard wants to dispel the image of the French snob, pointing to “a huge connection” between Virginia and France. Guillouard recalls that she learned about the history of Virginia as a child studying Lafayette, whose military campaign in Virginia aided in the surrender of the British at Yorktown. “I can feel the history here,” she says. “I feel like home here.”
Kamran Shaikh, owner, T-Shirt Studio
Kamran Shaikh first visited the United States from his native Pakistan when he was 14 and stayed for only one year. But he was determined to return. “America got into my head very early,” he says, chuckling. Returning with his family in 1991, his goal was to work for himself. “I was never a person who could work for somebody else,” he says. “I was always very independent-minded.”
After opening his first T-Shirt Studio in upstate New York, he wanted to establish a second location. “I loved the energy of a college town,” he says. “Carytown gave me that glimpse of a similar place.” He opened his local store in November 2013 and obtained the rights to make shirts with Virginia Commonwealth University’s logo last spring. Those items join the RVA-logoed items that he already carried. The shop also offers custom work; Shaikh says he enjoys when an order is for “family team” shirts for vacations.
Shaikh says he thinks his background as an immigrant is a key element in his desire to create a business of his own. “Being in a new place where you don’t have roots, you’re not limited to what you’ve always known and seen,” he says. “You have to dive in.”
Sukanya Pala-art, owner, Mom’s Siam
“I knew I wanted to stay here and raise my family,” says Mom's Siam owner Sukanya Pala-art. “(Richmond) kept me and my sons together.” (Photo by Jay Paul)
Food has been a family affair for Sukanya Pala-art since she was a child, cooking with her mother and sister and serving customers in her native Thailand. She moved to Northern Virginia in the mid-1980s with her two sons. Eventually, all three were working at a Washington, D.C., restaurant — Pala-art as a chef, her boys helping out where needed. But she wanted more. “It was time for me to move on,” she says.
Pala-art eventually settled on Richmond, in part, because it was still close to Northern Virginia. She opened Mom’s Siam in 2000, with her boys at her side. “My idea was to create Thai food for people to like,” she says. Now, Richmond is home. “I knew I wanted to stay here and raise my family,” she says. “It kept me and my sons together.”
While Mom’s Siam is still thriving, Pala-art’s sons have moved on, each with his own restaurant in Richmond: My Noodle & Bar and Fan Noodle. Pala-art’s sons promised not to use her recipes, but she then gave them permission. “ ‘Don’t worry,’ I said, ‘I want you to follow in my steps.’ ”
Guadalupe Ramirez, owner, AlterNatives
“We are raising awareness about where items come from and learning about each person who makes that thing,” says Guadalupe Ramirez, owner of AlterNatives, a fair-trade boutique specializing in products made by indigenous Maya people. (Supplied photo)
Guadalupe Ramirez credits the Carytown Watermelon Festival for the location of AlterNatives, a fair-trade boutique specializing in products made by indigenous Maya people.
After Ramirez moved to the United States from the Western Highlands of Guatemala with her husband and family, she began selling at craft fairs and festivals. As a vendor at Carytown’s signature summer event, she knew she’d found a place for a permanent storefront. “There was good energy on Cary Street,” she says.
Following in the footsteps of her father and grandfather, who organized farming cooperatives when she was a child, Ramirez wants people to understand the Maya vision of a marketplace, in which collaboration and appreciation are just as much appreciated as sales. “We’ve been doing trade for centuries; mutual exchange is what allows us to survive,” she says. “We have to find a balance in the market, not just focus on greed.”
Additionally, Ramirez wants to showcase the person behind the product, which creates a bond between the maker and customer and celebrates the creative process, another central tenet of the Maya marketplace. “We are raising awareness about where items come from and learning about each person who makes that thing,” she says. “We want to make that connection with consumers.”
Elizabet Bandazian, owner, Coriander
The salad bar in Elizabet Bandazian’s restaurant, Coriander, is intended to invoke an Armenian family meal, with many dishes on a single table and people coming and going. Her restaurant, which opened in November 2014, is a reflection of her as well as her culture.
Born in Turkey and raised in Amsterdam, she identifies her ethnicity as Armenian. Bandazian met her husband (also of Armenian descent) in New York City, where they were both working. They moved to Richmond seven years ago, joining his family who has been here since the early 1900s. “It’s a wonderful support system,” she says.
She and her husband had talked about opening an Armenian restaurant for some time. Carytown, “one of my favorite streets,” offers a “mix of everything” much like Armenian food. Bandazian says sharing food with others keeps her in touch with her heritage. “Our food is flavored not with only one flavor, but all ingredients blended in,” she says. “We go all the way in.”
Mel Oza, owner, Curry Craft
Following years of travel as a consultant chef to restaurants around the country, Mel Oza of Curry Craft decided it was time to settle into his own place. “I looked at Asheville, North Carolina, Minneapolis, Chicago and Richmond,” he says. “I wanted not the trendiest street, but one that was established.” Richmond was the lucky winner.
Happily ensconced on Cary Street since April 2013, Oza offers what might look like a classic Indian dish but one that is constructed in a very different way, using emulsions in place of traditional sauces and techniques not usually found in Indian food preparation. “We want to be an ambassador of Indian food — of modern India,” he says.
Oza was born in Puducherry (formerly Pondicherry), India, the city often referred to as the French Riviera of the East and a colony of France for more than a century. It became part of India in 1954. From the French, Oza developed a love of wine, and he encourages others to think of wine and Indian food as partners. “I want to break the myth that wine and Indian food don’t work,” he says. “It’s all about finding the right things and pairing.”