The latest restaurant concept from Hamooda Shami is — a little unusual. “I was almost afraid to say it out loud,” he says. “I reached deep into my vault of weird ideas.”
This spring, the owner of New York Deli, Don’t Look Back, Charlottesville’s Yearbook Taco Bar and the now-closed Portrait House plans to open a restaurant called 11 Months in the old Curry Craft space. At the same time, another will open on the Downtown Mall in Charlottesville in the Yearbook spot, pending its closure.
Shami says Yearbook was going gangbusters the first year, but he saw a big drop off the second. He knew he needed to start over and re-brand. That made him think about something that he’d been mulling over for the last eight years or so. What if he opened a place for 11 months, set a countdown clock and then completely started from scratch after it ticked to the end with a new interior, a new menu, a new concept? And then started the clock again?
“In order to get people to come out on a random Wednesday when it’s raining,” Shami says, “it has to be something really compelling.”
Although chef-driven pop-up culture hasn’t hit the Richmond dining scene with the kind of force you see on the West Coast, its diners’ craving for novelty remains unabated nonetheless. Shami likens what he wants to do with 11 Months to the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts.
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He explains it like this: Although the museum boasts an outstanding permanent collection, what makes locals line up is its rotating exhibitions. His new restaurant would function similarly. The staff and location would remain the same, and the 11 Months logo would still anchor the restaurant, but the new, temporary concept would also bring in a completely different décor and a new name. And that would then repeat. And repeat.
Shami’s enlisted Campfire & Co. to come up with the branding and design of 11 Months. He plans to go back to them yearly to plan the next versions.
“I’ve used up my interior design ideas,” he says.
The themes at his two restaurant in Richmond and Charlottesville will always be different from each other, although, he says, if he sees customers getting particularly attached to a concept, he’d think about rotating it back in later years.
“You never can tell in this business what’s going to capture people’s imagination,” Shami says.
The spring opening is a different kind of race against the clock. He and his wife are expecting a baby on April 2. “It’s kind of expediting the process,” he says. And right now, he isn’t giving any hints as to what diners might expect when he opens.
He’s ready for the challenge, although he’s well-aware of the risks. “You never really know, and admittedly, this is a crazier kind of thing than your usual hospitality projects,” Shami says. “It’s a coin flip.”