Walter Bundy stands at the center of Shagbark, his forthcoming restaurant. For our full profile on the chef, pick up a copy of our March issue, hitting newsstands now. (Photo by: Stephanie Breijo)
[6/21/16 Update: According to a news release, Shagbark will open next Wednesday, June 29, at 4901 Libbie Mill E. Blvd., at 5 p.m. for dinner service, with brunch service to follow eventually.]
The massive housing and community development of Libbie Mill - Midtown isn't just the site of a new library, of specialty market Southern Season or of the 1,096 apartments and up to 994 homes that are soon to come; it's where Walter Bundy, former executive chef of Lemaire, will realize his lifelong dream: owning and operating a restaurant of his own.
Shagbark sits in all 5,872 square feet of its glory, situated just off the development's entrance from Staples Mill Road. For now, it's a spacious shell divided by tall beams and the occasional ladder. In May, it should open as a sleek and sophisticated — but still comfortable — home for Bundy's award-winning cuisine. The restaurant's namesake, a large, Civil War-era shagbark hickory tree that sat on his in-laws' property for generations, should set a neighborly tone from the get-go; the enormous hickory, which stood a tall 12 feet high and more than three feet wide, has been repurposed into a large communal table that will greet guests near the entrance. It's both a focal point and a vessel for the restaurant's ideology: Come in and sit a spell, enjoy locally sourced cuisine, know that you're part of a community.
“I mean, I just want it to be true," Bundy says. "I want it to represent Virginia as best as possible, and celebrate everything Virginia has to offer. That’s one thing when I was at The French Laundry that Thomas [Keller] always taught me: Some of the best stuff is right there in your backyard. Even though we would get stuff from France, Maine lobster, salmon from so-and-so, a lot of time, stuff’s right there like Virginia peanuts, and Surryano ham from Edwards, and bacon from Kite's Hams, and fresh rockfish, and people that are growing quail across Virginia. All these local farmers — Manakintowne and Victory farms — I mean there’s just so much cool stuff.
I want a Southern angle and I want it to be about history, too; pimento cheese has a history, ham salad has a history. Just keep it true and as beautiful as possible, and provide to the guests a real comfortable, easy feeling like they can just come in however they are and let them dictate the dress code, or get dressed up nicely."
These purveyors are just a handful in Shagbark's stellar lineup, which will help the chef bring classic Southern and Southern-inspired dinners to the West End in small plates and full entrées — with an aim to keep everything under $30. You can also expect a menu dotted with produce from Bundy Farms, brought to you Bundy's own green thumb. In fact, it was Bundy who started the microgreens program at the James Beard Award-winning restaurant The French Laundry in Napa, and he continued purveying peppers, eggplant, collards and other produce for his own menus throughout his impressive tenure at Lemaire in The Jefferson Hotel (17 years, with 15 spent as executive chef, for those keeping score at home). And, of course, there will be game. With a love of hunting and fishing, it would be preposterous for Bundy not to share it with us; expect duck, venison, bison and pheasant, among other meats.
“I wanna keep it simple, I wanna do pure, good food," says Bundy. "I wanna celebrate Virginia as much as I can and keep it reasonable as much as I can so people can come and eat there. I want killer food in a comfortable environment that people come back for."
Once Shagbark opens its doors to its 45-to-50-seat dining room and its two private dining rooms, set at 18 to 25 each, you'll find it open for dinner seven days a week, with brunch being considered. In the spring, you'll find a 20-to-25-seat patio. At the 30-seat bar, you can slide up to a seat and enjoy four wines on tap in addition to a menu that spotlights but isn't exclusively comprised of Virginia wines, plus six microbrew taps and bottled beer. While the cocktail program is still in the works, the chef hopes to offer guests another bit of Virginia history with a drink inspired by pawcohiccora, a milky beverage that members of the Algonquin tribe would craft from shagbark hickory nuts.
And don't be surprised to see Shagbark's staff signed up for the Monument 10k or hosting Virginia Oyster Shell Recycling Program events in the future. It's all part of Shagbark's communal aspirations and community involvement.
“I’m just excited to finally…” he trails off. “It’s me, it’s on my shoulders. It’s not, ‘You work at the beautiful Jefferson.’ No, this is Walter Bundy’s place. Come check it out," he says, adding, “I just feel like with it being mine, it’s gonna be much more me. It’s gonna be truer to me, and I want to keep it simple but I want it to be just really good. I wanna provide fantastic products, excellent service at a reasonable price, and hopefully gain customers and friends for life. And that’s my goal.”
For our full profile on Walter Bundy, pick up the March issue of Richmond magazine, hitting newsstands now. Shagbark is located at 4901 Libbie Mill East Blvd. in the Libbie Mill - Midtown development, and is set to open in May. For updates, follow Shagbark on Instagram and Facebook.