Photo by Greg Powers
Amid the swirling rumors of real estate deals in the Richmond dining scene, one thing is for certain: D.C. chef and restaurant owner Mike Isabella is bringing his take on Italian-inspired cuisine to Richmond. He’ll open the second iteration of his restaurant, Graffiato, in the Popkin Tavern space on Broad Street this spring.
“We do all of our sourcing locally,” Isabella says of his restaurants. “We don’t really import anything. … We call [Graffiato] “inspired” because everything comes from the States, if not the East Coast. What better place to go than Richmond where all of the farms are, [and] where we’re getting a lot of our product [already]?”
Isabella is a Top Chef and Top Chef All-Stars alum, and in addition to Graffiato, he owns Greek restaurant Kapnos, where the menu is fueled by whole, spit-roasted animals, and G, a sandwich shop by day and tasting menu-focused restaurant by night.
His resume is impressive: He’s worked for James Beard Award winners José Andrés, Marcus Samuelsson, José Garces and Douglas Rodriguez, in addition to writing a cookbook (Mike Isabella’s Crazy Good Italian) with Carol Blymire and picking up accolades as Food & Wine’s The People’s Best New Chef Mid-Atlantic in 2012.
Isabella is partnering with Rappahannock’s Travis Croxton, winner of the 2014 Elby for Best Restaurateur, as well as Hilda Staples, his partner in D.C.’s Graffiato. He’ll bring in other members of his team to help open the spot and train new employees.
There won’t be dramatic changes to the old Popkin Furniture building. “The space is super-cool — with its high ceilings, and big glass windows on the corner, and old floor that’s totally on an angle,” says Isabella. “For me, it’s about keeping that feel of Popkin’s and trying to marry it with Graffiato.” A few of the walls will get a layer of graffiti, lighting will be changed, the bar is in for re-facing and a wood-burning oven will be installed in the kitchen — but that’s about it. Although half of the menu from D.C. will travel down to Richmond, the rest of the offerings will be brand-new. You can also expect Prosecco on tap and Virginia wines to be included in the wine menu.
Isabella plans to rent an apartment here and to be on site seven days a week. He also wants to bring some of his other concepts to the city, if Graffiato proves successful. “[This restaurant] is not a one [trick] pony for me, it’s for the future.”