by Brandon Fox
Tiffany Gellner of the Magpie was interviewed in 2013 as part of Women, Work & Food in Richmond, Virginia, an oral history project for the Southern Foodways Alliance. Interview & photographs by Sara Wood.
Even as Southern Living names L’Opossum as one of the best 30 restaurants in the South, the Magpie’s closure Aug. 30 stands as a reminder of how fragile the restaurant business can be. One minute, brunch’s bacon hushpuppies were on the table and the next, the Magpie’s doors were locked and owners Tiffany Gellner and Owen Lane were announcing on Facebook that they wouldn’t reopen. Gellner explained in the Times-Dispatch that a small restaurant like the Magpie with limited seating and high food costs couldn’t keep skating along the thinnest of margins. It was time to move on.
To give the owners a little breathing room and perhaps some encouragement to open a new place, Bonfire Funds founder and Belle Isle Craft Spirits co-owner Brian Marks started a campaign yesterday to raise funds for the couple. Shirts and sweatshirts branded with the Magpie’s logo are available for purchase with 100 percent of the proceeds going to Gellner and Lane.
The campaign is reminiscent of the outpouring of affection that resulted in several successful fundraising efforts when Church Hill’s Sub Rosa burned in 2013. The bakery was able to reopen less than a year later. Hopefully, the Magpie — in whatever form it might take — will have the same happy ending.
And it might be worth thinking about other places that had to close this year. It’s a tough business and most of us forget the cost of food, liquor, insurance, utilities, salaries and wages when we see a packed room and must wait for a table. Volume is the primary way to keep a restaurant afloat.
Here’s a sobering list of some of the restaurants that closed in 2015. Let’s all buy a glass of our favorite beverage and raise it to the blood, sweat and tears of every restaurant owner in Richmond. And don’t forget to tip your waitress.