Photo by Isaac Harrell
Steve Rogge always wanted to open a restaurant. He talked about it for years with Kevin McGrath, his buddy since attending Swift Creek Middle School, but he put the idea on the back burner (so to speak) to study economics at the University of Virginia.
After graduating in 2006, Rogge worked in the Washington area as a financial analyst for more than three years at Standard & Poor's, where he created cash-flow models of European bonds. "The finance field seemed like the prudent decision," he says. But he and McGrath continued to mull over the restaurant idea.
"I thought maybe I'd open a restaurant after retiring" from finance work, says Rogge, 29, "but if you start a family, it's harder to make a change." To get a taste of restaurant work, he decided to take a side job waiting tables at a South American fusion place called Ceviche. "I loved it," Rogge says. "I love everything about the industry. It was good to see the inner workings of it." Because of his financial background, the owner enlisted his help with bookkeeping, giving Rogge a close look at the operating expenses.
That experience encouraged him to take the plunge and enroll in the International Culinary School at the Art Institutes of Washington in 2009. He also landed a job as a garde-manger (preparing cold foods) at Eventide, an upscale Arlington restaurant, after spending a week staging (working for free) to try it out. He moved up to prep cook, then full line cook. Meanwhile, McGrath says, "Steve reached out to me and asked if I was still serious about opening a restaurant." Their longtime goal materialized when The Flyin' Pig Backyard Grill opened Nov. 26 at Waterford Shopping Center, in southwestern Chesterfield County.
The concept started out as upscale, South American-style tapas. "But fine dining was struggling," Rogge says. "We adapted the idea to fit the times." The restaurant's name is a play on two of the menu's star items — hickory-smoked chicken wings and pork.
Even before he started culinary school, working in the kitchen wasn't exactly new for Rogge. "My mom is a huge cook," he says. "My dad's mother is also a great cook. … Family functions revolved around massive dinners." In college, he cooked for his fraternity brothers and housemates.
Rogge's paternal grandmother, who was Polish, had "the best apple cake recipe," something he adapted as a brown-butter apple cake while working as a line cook at Six Burner, after returning to the Richmond area in 2010.
At The Flyin' Pig, sauces and dressings are made in house, as well as the potato chips and hush puppies. Some items, such as the jalapeño-coconut-black bean side dish, would have been on the fine-dining menu that he and McGrath originally planned.
Although Rogge acknowledges that his parents "weren't super excited" about his career change at first, he says they've helped with everything from start-up funding to decorating.
"My dad was in here washing dishes one morning," he says. "My mom's here almost every day, printing menus or running to the bank." Rogge's new bride, Kate, who works for Virginia Repertory Theatre, trains servers and waits tables. The family and community connections also help in attracting customers. "There's little foot traffic here," Rogge says. "Word-of-mouth does more than anything for us."