Dougal Hewitt's kind face looms over me. He's a very tall man, and I am not either of those things. "I thought we might meet at the Lamplighter since I hadn't actually tried it yet," he says. "I really have wanted to."
It's not surprising that Hewitt hasn't found the time to go to the Lamplighter Roasting Co., even though its owners are recipients of grants he helped award; he's a very busy man. A Scotsman with a faded accent after 20-plus years in the United States, Hewitt is senior vice president of mission at Bon Secours Virginia Health System.
There's been economic pressure on Bon Secours to move Richmond Community Hospital, which has been operating out of the East End since 1907, but instead of making a simplistic decision to maximize profits, Bon Secours has chosen to invest in the neighborhood.
"We took a different tack," Hewitt says, "based on the belief that for a hospital to flourish, the neighborhood should prosper as well." CEO Peter Bernard's focus, according to Hewitt, is to keep people healthy instead of waiting to treat them when they're sick.
One way in which Bon Secours is helping to revitalize the neighborhood is through its SEED (Supporting East End Entrepreneurship Development) program, a series of grants to fledgling businesses. With the help of LISC (Local Initiatives Support Corp.) to administer the grants and New Visions, New Ventures to provide mentoring support, the aim of the awards is to fortify small businesses with a source of capital that doesn't have to be paid back. "We're not trying to get a financial return," Hewitt says. "We want to draw attention to the possibilities of neighborhoods."
And as part of its overarching health initiative, Bon Secours is also focused on making sure that people have access to healthy food. Church Hill (and the wider East End) is essentially a food desert. There is no grocery store (Farm Fresh on East Main Street is on the outer edge of the neighborhood and not the easiest place to get to on foot), and the mom-and-pop markets have all but died out. Mark Lilly's Farm to Family bus and Tricycle Gardens, which has also partnered with Bon Secours, are working to address the absence of fresh produce and educate residents on how to grow their own food, but more needs to be done to solve the problem.
Three of the six business given SEED grants this fall were food-oriented: Proper Pie Co., a savory pie bakery; Sub Rosa Bakery, which will produce stone-ground flour and open a bakery; and Tall Bike Coffee, which operates Lamplighter and received a grant for new equipment. Evrim Dogu of Sub Rosa says, "We will be working with the folks at Lamplighter to serve and sell their coffee — in addition to our own offerings — in a more careful and in-depth way."
About 20 applications were received this year, and after deciding which ones looked like they had the most potential on paper, the panel invited 10 applicants to speak for five minutes about their business plan and how they would use the funds. "The panel rated them based on creativity, community impact, sustainability and credibility," says Hewitt. The process was a familiar one we've all seen on reality television. "It was a little intimidating [for the applicants]," he says. "At one end of the room stood the person making a pitch, and at the other end was the panel looking back, sitting at a long table."
Proper Pie Co. may have had an edge because its owners brought pies to share when they came in for their five-minute pitch. They're "savory, hand-sized, homemade, Antipodean-style pies," co-owner Nicole Price says, the kind of pies her husband, former LuLu's chef Neil Smith, grew up eating in New Zealand.
Hewitt's eyes light up when he talks about the pies. "We didn't sample them when they were there [giving their pitch], but we did as soon as they left."
Price and Smith will use their $10,000 grant to purchase commercial kitchen equipment. Upon receiving the award, Price says, "We were thrilled, of course! And motivated. We believe in ourselves, but there is always a little doubt that creeps in, so it's really nice to have someone else believe in your vision."
Noelle Archibald of Tall Bike Coffee (and co-owner of Lamplighter, along with her husband, Zach, and partner Jennifer Rawlings) wants to use the grant money to purchase a sophisticated espresso machine that allows each shot to be measured individually as it brews — more or less, depending upon the type of drink you might be making (most machines dispense automatically measured shots).
Archibald and her partners will be teaming up with Dogu of Sub Rosa. Dogu plans to buy a stone mill to produce his own flours with the grant money, as well as pay for storage and the purchase of grain. Although they haven't secured the building yet, the plan is to open adjacent to The Roosevelt restaurant on 25th Street.
The businesses have until next fall to use the funds, and they can apply again the next year for 50 percent of the amount they originally received. Meanwhile, efforts are being made to provide solid support for each business. "I believe there's growth and positive development in the East End. Why, it's physically evident!" Hewitt says with a wide smile. "There have been lots of plans in the past that led to knocking things down. [With] other plans, nothing has happened. We want to keep the community engaged."