Halligan Bar & Grill in West Broad Village Photo by James Dickinson
Richmond's downtown dwellers take a certain pride in their city's reputation as foodie heaven.
Meanwhile, in the land of Short Pump, there's a certain assumption that an endless sea of Applebee's and national chain steakhouses fill the horizon.
Reality couldn't be further from truth. Take Patina Grill, located in the Shops at Wellesley. Opened in 1998, back when Short Pump was better known for cows than for Nordstrom, Patina long ago established a strong reputation as a high-quality independent place where diners can taste the kitchen's creativity.
"It's riskier," says Brian Munford, chef/owner, acknowledging lofty rents for restaurant space and the truth that many diners gravitate toward national chains. "There were 3,000 restaurant seats added at about the time the mall opened."
While most of those were corporate kitchens, Munford says, the Far West End has begun to get its local legs back. A case in point is Ironfish by Pescados, which opened in a Lauderdale Drive strip mall in May 2011 under the name The White Anchovie before changing its concept and moniker several months later. The restaurant's owners also operate kitchens in Midlothian and in Oregon Hill.
"The thinking was, ‘What else is out here?' and ‘Nobody' was the answer," says Britton Marable, general manager at Ironfish. Marable says swimming upstream into uncharted restaurant territory has paid off.
"We don't do much marketing at any of the restaurants, so we started off a bit slower than we expected," he says, but that was before the reviews started pouring in from local publications. "For about two or three months, it was chaotic. Now we're down to what I like to call normal. The weekends are filled up. The numbers are looking good."
Incomes are higher in the region's western reaches, which enticed Sandeep "Sunny" Baweja and his partners from Hampton Roads when they looked to Richmond to open a restaurant.
"We wanted to be in Richmond for a long time," says Baweja, who opened Lehja in 2010. "The Short Pump area seemed promising. It had the space we needed."
Other locally owned restaurants have followed, including the Halligan Bar & Grill in West Broad Village and Peter Chang Café, the Sichuan superstar next to Walmart.
Rick Gregory, co-owner of Halligan, suspects that when you park a full-sized fire truck in the middle of the dining room and convert its fire-fighting plumbing from water to beer dispensing, it's bound to attract a curious crowd. "After the canned product that most people were used to, I think this is a refreshing idea."