Amy Cabaniss recently opened Mint New Casual Cuisine in the former Davis and Main location. Photo by Isaac Harrell
Although she grew up in Baltimore, Amy Cabaniss found her culinary inspiration during visits to Charleston, S.C., and New Orleans.
"I just never had that quality food, or that type, where it wasn't quite soul food, and it wasn't country-bumpkin food," Cabaniss says. "It was just an elegant way of serving food, I thought."
After she opened Julep's New Southern Cuisine in Shockoe Bottom in the spring of 2003, Southern favorites such as fried green tomatoes and shrimp and grits quickly became signature items. "I wanted to bring [that type of cuisine] to Richmond because, at the time — nine years ago — there really wasn't that Southern flair like we prepare at Julep's available."
Cabaniss also loves to focus on a specific type of food. Before opening Julep's, she owned two incarnations of Cabo's Corner Bistro (in locations now occupied by Bacchus and The Republic) with an eclectic menu that combined Asian, American and other cuisines — which she says never made sense to her.
The mother of an 11-year-old son (Seth Cabaniss) and a 4-month-old daughter (Brooke Ayers), Cabaniss is adding to her restaurant family with Mint New Casual Cuisine, which opened in March at 2501 W. Main St. in the former Davis and Main space. Mint shares Julep's Southern flair, but the atmosphere is more relaxed and the prices lower, with almost all the dinner entrées less than $20.
"I want people to have a lot of fun [at Mint]," says Cabaniss, whose partner in the restaurant is her fiancé, Jon Ayers. "It's not going to be as quiet, I guess. Julep's is a fine-dining restaurant, so the focus is much different [than at Mint]. So I really want it to be a neighborhood restaurant."
The menu at Mint includes soups, salads, sandwiches and plenty of side dishes. There's also a section with snacks such as Cajun boiled peanuts and fried pickle chips served with a house-made black-pepper-buttermilk-ranch dressing. Randall Doetzer, the executive chef at Julep's, created the menu for Mint, working alongside chef Travis Milton, most recently head chef and partner at Parkside Café.
Cabaniss says that she didn't always plan to be a restaurateur. After graduating from Virginia Commonwealth University in 1993 with a marketing degree, "I was organizing outdoor festivals and events and had always worked in restaurants — high school and college — and the opportunity just arose where I found myself owning a restaurant for the first time."
One of the restaurants where Cabaniss worked as a waitress while attending VCU was Davis and Main.
"I ran into the previous owner [Barry Pruitt] the other day," she says. "And I was getting out of my car, and I just paid the floor guy, and I hear this gentleman walking down the street whistling, walking his dog, and he's like, ‘You certainly have come full circle, haven't you?' "