Opening day at Carytown's newest café, Weezie's Kitchen, came at least three months later than owner Todd Gelsomino wanted. But when a party of 16 real estate agents walked through the door first thing for breakfast, Gelsomino got the indicator he'd been waiting for. The kitchen jumped into gear.
By noon the place was almost packed, with only a wind-whipped spray of balloons announcing the opening. Young women and babies including a french-fry-eating toddler named Hayden held court in the center. More women walked in for takeout menus, and Chef Scot Holmstrom pumped out burgers, Philly chicken sandwiches and salads as though he'd been doing it for years. Which he has, working his way through the Giavos circuit and other local kitchens and answering Gelsomino's last-minute Craigslist query (another chef had bailed four days before opening).
But the owner, in his first venture, took the switch-up in stride, observing that Holmstrom's relationships with food vendors and his skill at the stove were fatefully available at the right moment.
Same with abstract artist Inge Strack, a German transplant who stepped into the space while it was being whitewashed and saw the need for colorful, boldly stroked canvases. A series of her paintings now fills the walls with exactly the vigor that Gelsomino imagined. Things cool down with Miles Davis on the sound system and with the concrete and stainless fittings that Matthew Tlusty left behind after closing Duro all those months ago.
Gelsomino now knows it's not easy to open a restaurant in Richmond that everything seems to take longer than predicted. While he stood behind the (alcohol-free, for now) bar on opening day last Tuesday, Gelsomino's vision healthy, hearty comfort food in a bright, relaxed atmosphere came together with no time to spare.
When the liquor license comes, Weezie's will open for dinner. For now, it's serving breakfast and lunch every day but Monday, at 3123 W. Cary St. across from Can Can.
Getting equal approval in Petersburg is Maria's Café and Italian Restaurant at 16 W. Old St., which opened last week to raves for its traditional cuisine and charm.
That town's interest in food shows no signs of abating at the Taste of Petersburg benefit for the Petersburg Symphony last month, the best-dressed and most diverse food-sampling crowd around ate its way through big portions of international fare from nearly every restaurateur in town.
Anna Bolling Epps and Patrice Gilliam set the scene in purple- and green-flowered hats but left their gloves in the car the better to eat, they said.
"Our restaurants in this city are great, but they're underreported," Epps said, just before digging into a fresh crab ball from Wabi-Sabi, while woodwinds played pop in the background.
Next week: Openings continue. How much more can Richmond eat?