Sneed and his mentor Jean-Louis Palladin jokingly pose as “The Frog and the Redneck” in the late 1980’s. Fred Maroon photo
1. The Passion of Jimmy Sneed
The cowboy-boot-wearing Jimmy Sneed opened The Frog and the Redneck in 1993 and operated it until its closed in 2001.
Dale Reitzer, owner of Acacia Mid-town, worked under Sneed for many years and describes him as "a spontaneous, radical and passionate guy," adding that, "there are very few people that understood him."
Reitzer says that Sneed's influential stint at the Frog and the Redneck was milestone for the Richmond dining scene. "The Frog and the Redneck was big for Richmond. It was their first chance to see a high-profile chef," he says.
Sneed not only worked at the Republican Club of Capitol Hill as the sous chef but at the Watergate Hotel in Washington, D.C., under the French chef Jean-Louis Palladin, and under Gunther Seeger (a German chef based in Atlanta).
Sneed, now in Chicago at SugarToad in the Hotel Arista, is also a partner at Carena's Jamaican Grille (located at 7102 Midlothian Turnpike, 422-JERK or 422jerk.com)
2. Family Restaurant Dynasties: the Williamses, the Ripps and the Giavoses
Michelle Williams, co-president of the Richmond Restaurant Group Inc., jumped into the food business during her Richmond high school years as a hostess at the Tobacco Company. Little did Williams know that with business partner, Jared Golden, and investment from her family and others, she would establish the Richmond Restaurant Group that includes Shockoe's The Hard Shell, which opened in 1995; followed by Shockoe's Europa (1998); Church Hill's The Hill Café (2000); and the Fan's deLUX (2007).
"We were trying to fit a niche that was missing downtown and in Richmond," Williams say, adding the vision was to "create a restaurant row." DeLUX was a longtime dream, established in response to the diner-comfort food trend in Richmond. "Our desire [was] to improve what was already going on in the Fan," she says. "We wanted something that has a big-city feel."
While Williams and Golden founded RRG, Golden's father, Ken Golden; William's father, Emory Williams; and Ted Wallof were investors.
Williams also created Hanover Restaurant Group in July 2005, with operating partner Greg Haley. HRG oversees Michelle's at Hanover Tavern. Her father, Emory, is an investor in HRG. Her brother Chad Williams also provides Web design for HRG and RRG.
The Ripp family, known best for Carytown's French bistro, Can Can, actually started their Richmond restaurant influence long before Can Can opened in 2004. About 35 years ago, Richard Ripp (father to Chris Ripp, owner of Can Can) established The Restaurant Company, which oversaw full-service restaurants for years, including Vie de France, which opened in the James Center in 1988. For the past 15 years, Richard Ripp has primarily concentrated on local Arby's franchises. Richard Ripp currently oversees 20 Arby's locations, including the ritzy Short Pump, Hanover and Chesterfield establishments. Growing up in the restaurant business, his son Chris fell in love with cooking and opened Can Can after graduation from New York's Culinary Institute of America. "That signature restaurant embodies everything that's good about Carytown – comfortable, causal and stylish," Chris Ripp says. "We wanted to be very seamless transition into the Carytown culture." Meanwhile, Chris' older brother, Michael, opened Havana 59 in November 1994. John Ripp, another brother, has served as the company's accountant and financial controller for 20 years.
The Giavos family has built a dynasty of local restaurants serving eclectic cuisine since 1984. Their local influence began with Stella's, which opened in 1984 (opened through November 2005) and was run by Stavros and Stella Dikos and their daughter, Katrina Giavos. Katrina's husband, Johnny, opened Sidewalk Café in 1991 and Kuba Kuba on April 1, 1998; Kuba Kuba has been a Fan icon ever since. Johnny followed with 3 Monkeys in November 2004, and Kitchen 64 in May 2007 (their sweet potato fries are a must-try). The family's most recent foodie spot, Gibson's Grill, opened in November 2008, and is adjacent to The National.
3. The 1980s and Don Bleau's Butlery
Long before Michael Hall was the executive chef at the Bull & Bear Club, he was washing dishes at The Butlery, which put him near one of Richmond's top chefs: Don Bleau.
In 1982, opened The Butlery (where Azzurro now is in River Road Shopping Center), offering something fine, something French and something just a little bit different. The personal flair Bleau put into his country-French dishes — including a grapefruit grilled duck breast and a Brussell sprouts dish seasoned with caraway seeds and simmered in beef bullions — gave him the title by numerous publications as the most influential chef of Richmond's 1980s. Hall, who would never try Brussels sprouts before Bleau's dish, was enamored with Bleau's dish but more so with his energy, his talent for creating a diverse array of food and the ability to draw a hungry crowd of pleased regulars. "Don Bleau was an excellent chef. He could really cook. He had a knack for seeing into the future," Hall says. "He had such a great vision for what Richmond could handle at the time. At that time there was any better chef."
During Hall's five years working for Bleau in the 1980s, Bleau was also running The Aviary in The James Center (closed in 1992) and Palm Court, a jazz club which opened in Main Street Station in 1987. Bleau followed with The Butler's Pantry, (where Café Mosaic is today), a gourmet kitchen featuring mixed salads, sandwiches and even fresh flowers and rare wines— and he named Hall the executive sous chef. Hall says Bleau's influence echoes through the streets. "That's what he had, he had an empire. I still think about it today," Hall says. "He understood being the best … I would not be where I am without him."
Editor's note: We could not find Bleau. We would love to speak with him. E-mail us with any leads at firstname.lastname@example.org
4. Gourmet Take Out Debuts
Five years before Ukrop's Super Markets brought Richmond hearty take-out dinners-for-two, Harvey McWilliams opened Richmond's first upscale take-out spot: Mainly Pasta.
McWilliams, a self-taught cook, established Mainly Pasta in 1983, offering gourmet dishes — everything from homemade pastas to stuffed snow peas and his State Fair winning cakes, including a chocolate-almond truffle. McWilliams was inspired to start Mainly Pasta from a foodie take-out trend he'd seen in New York. About the same time, James and Bobby Ukrop noticed the demand for high-quality, take-home meals while attending The Coca-Cola Research Council in Europe. They immediately implemented what they saw and in 1989, opened their Central Kitchen and launched Dinner for Two.
"The idea was to make authentic food that people would make themselves if they had the time," says Kevin Hade, vice president of sales and merchandise for Ukrop's Super Markets. "It has really become a staple of our program." Dinner for Two started just on Tuesday evenings (about $7 to $10 in 1989). Now, Dinner for Two (about $8 to $12 currently) is offered each evening with a different entrée and side-dish options. This fall, Ukrop's celebrates its 20th year in the gourmet take-out business.
5. The '90s Brings Global Cuisine to Richmond
A global current swept through our River City in the early '90s, spawning authentic ethnic dining. Carytown's Ristorante Amici opened its doors Oct. 12, 1991, offering Northern Italian dishes, a selection Richmonders hadn't previously had within their forks' reach. Que Huong was the first venue to bring Vietnamese food to Richmond, and Full Kee brought authentic Chinese fare in 1994.
Carlo Gaione, co-owner of Amici, says Richmonders were have slowly gained an acquired taste for fine Northern Italian dining. "When we just opened, people were just [ordering] spaghetti and meatballs," he said. "[Now] all the chefs in town can really put out the stuff they went to school for. If they came [to Richmond] from other countries, they can use their spices or prepare the dishes the way they are used to. Twenty years ago, that was taboo."
Gaione adds that one of his most popular dishes in 1991 was the grilled, marinated portabella mushroom, which most Richmonders had not tasted before stepping into Amici. (Gaione adds that he plans to add his famous portabella mushrooms back to his menu again this spring.) As this taste for local cuisine gained popularity, Gaione and his partner, Antonio Capece, opened La Grotta (1994) in Shockoe Slip to meet demand. Gaione and Capece joined with their longtime friends the Lopresti family (owners of Mary Angela's, Piccola and Maldini's) and created Pronto Pizza, an upscale pizzeria, in 1998. In 2005, partner Carlos Silva joined them to open 27 Bistro, with the goal: "jump the gun on the developing downtown," Gaione says.
As Richmonders' love for the authentic food spread, other culinary-inclined families moved to town. Yoseph Teklemariam and his family relocated from Washington, D.C., in 2005 and opened The Nile in January of 2006, offering the option of eating with your hands, Ethiopian style. Teklemariam and two of his brothers — Benyam and Natan — work with their mom, chef Yeshareg Demisse, to bring Richmond a rich cultural experience. "For many years, we discussed as a family that we wanted to open up on Ethiopian restaurant," Teklemariam says. "It's more than us serving food. We want to create an atmosphere and have guests feel that they are coming into someone's home. We share a lot about the Ethiopian culture."
6. For the Love of Markets
Full of energy and a passion, Kathy Emerson was ideal as the manager for the 17th Street Farmers' Market, revitalizing it and creating local traditions. Crafter of her own line of jewelry and on staff at the Anderson Gallery for 10 years, Emerson was an artist: a visionary used to hard work. When Emerson visited the 17th Street Farmer's Market in 1998 after being hired as its manager, she saw that her toolbox was loaded with nothing more than a parking lot in Shockoe Bottom, littered with parking stubs and discarded cigarette butts. Not deterred, Emerson threw herself into a political battle for funding and sponsorship, which included donning a papier-mache tomato costume to gain rapport during a visit to Richmond's deputy city manager.
Emerson's efforts also included creating a variety of marketing ideas, planning big events and even cleaning bathrooms — there wasn't anything she didn't do. The Shockoe Tomato Festival was born as well as Que Pasa and the Brunswick Stew Festival, which drew 15,000 people by 2003.
But great stew is not all that Emerson's efforts stirred up. Since she retired from her position in 2004, Richmond has seen other markets open, including the Lakeside Farmers Market and the South of the James Market, both which opened last year. Ashland, Petersburg and Goochland also have farmers markets, and The Byrd House also hosts a market.
7. Training Local Talent
When David Barrish was hired program head by J. Sergeant Reynolds Community College in 1987, he immediately saw a need unleash student's culinary creativity. "It be evident that there were students who did not want to be mangers but had the creative aspect of cuisine," Barrish says, "and we were not really satisfying that."
At the time, J. Sarge's culinary programs only offered a Hotel-Restaurant-Institutional Management associate's degree. Barrish began working toward reorganizing the programs. "Basically what happened was the Hotel-Restaurant-Institutional Management degree, I changed the name to Hospitality Management and, at the same time, created a brand new degree, a culinary arts degree," he says.
By 1992, the Associate of Applied Science Degree of Culinary Arts was added to J. Sarge's offerings as well as a certificate in Pastry Arts.
8. Positive Vibe Café
When Positive Vibe Café opened its doors Jan. 19, 2005, it wasn't just its menu that put it on the national map. Positive Vibe Café quickly was recognized by the U.S. Department of Labor as an innovative training center for mentally and physically disabled young adults, established without government funding. "Our training program not only helps to provide skills to people with disabilities to learn how to work in food service," says Garth Larcen, founder of Positive Vibe Café, "but in some ways and more importantly it develops a strong sense of self-confidence that allows an individual to feel better about themselves."
The four-week training program includes a food preparation class that covers kitchen sanitation, knife safety, and how to prepare a quiche and cookies. Upon graduation, students have acquired the skills for an entry-level job in the food business, says Stephanie Lau, training program director. Positive Vibe's program has trained about 260 young adults.
Larcen founded Positive Vibe to provide assistance to individuals like his son, Max Larcen (diagnosed with deschenes muscular dystrophy), who were struggling to find a vocation. Larcen established the Get Lost MD Foundation (GLMD) in 2002, which later birthed the Positive Vibe Café. The chefs who helped develop the café's menu include J. Frank, Rob Hamlin and Bob DiCapri. Larcen hired Mac McCrowell in February as Positive Vibe's new executive chef, previously the executive chef at Carytown's Karsen's and previously Zeus Gallery Café.
2825 Hathaway Road, 560-9622, positivevibecafe.com
9. Chef Dale Reitzer
When Dale Reitzer opened Carytown's Acacia in 1998, his creative art was unleashed. With years of training under his belt, he says he was finally cooking for himself, zealous to use his art to fascinate his guests. Reitzer had worked under Jimmy Sneed (owner of Shockoe's The Frog and the Redneck) as his chef de cuisine, then under Gunther Seeger at Ritz-Carlton, Buckhead in Atlanta. "Acacia was a place for me to develop my style and work hard and try to become a better chef," Reitzer says. In 1999, Reitzer's flair with local foods and meats honored him one of Food & Wine magazine's Best New Chef in America awards. Reitzer expanded his local influence by opening Paysanne and a few years later, Six Burner, a Fan bistro on West Main Street.
Reitzer chose to close Acacia in Carytown and find a new location. They reopened Dec. 17, 2008, as Acacia Mid-town, across the Boulevard on Cary Street at Robinson (and they even offer valet parking). Reitzer says over the years, his cuisine — which has always focused on what's fresh and most local — has localized even more. "The focus has always been … fresh product, local product. We have been doing that for 20 years," he says. Reitzer adds that when he first came to Richmond, it was challenging to buy local because farmers offered just the basics: potatoes, corn and green beans (and equally eateries offered things just broiled or blackened). He adds that as the restaurant and dish options have become eclectic, so have the local farmers.
For Reitzer, who grew up on the Virginia shores, this means an array of seafood dishes, his specialty. "I just love to cook seafood," he says. "I have always been a hands-on and a love-to-cook kind of person… . I like to get my hands in it and I have been fortunate enough to keep my staff alongside and they feed off my passion and my energy."
2601 W. Cary Street, 562.0138, acaciarestaurant.com
10. Tea Rises to the Top Again
The Chesterfield Tearoom delighted locals with tea service for 75 years, and was Richmond's longest enduring dining establishment when it closed in 1988. A Victorian-style tearoom (900 W. Franklin St.), it was operated by Glenn Hesby for 36 years, until he leased the Chesterfield Tearoom out and it subsequently closed. Currently, Cous Cous occupies the space, serving Mediterranean-Moroccan cuisine instead of cups of tea.
Morton's Tea Room was the last survivor of its kind, renown for its scrumptious hot, yeast rolls and cozy lunch ambiance. Sam and Julia Bell Morton purchased the location (2 E. Franklin St.) in 1952 and created the tea boutique, serving cups of tea for almost 40 years. On July 16, 1991, Morton's closed their doors and the Franklin Street location was turned into apartments.
Reminiscent of these historic gatherings, The Jefferson has offered afternoon tea Friday through Sunday since 1992 in its Palm Court.
Giving a nod to tearooms of the past, several have been established in recent years including Cuppa Tea on North Morris Street in the Fan and Huckleberries Tearoom, which opened three years ago on the North Side and moved to a Midlothian location (2014 Huguenot Road) in June 2007.