The line at the Urban Hang Suite looks longer than expected, even for a highly anticipated debut eatery from a well-liked local celebrity. It turns out that most of the visitors aren't actually in line. Instead, they're just hanging out, standing around chatting. Which is exactly what owner Kelli Lemon intends.
The words "connections, coffee, culture" painted on the front windows welcome visitors into Lemon's casual breakfast and lunch spot. Billed as a social cafe, Urban Hang Suite is currently open from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. seven days a week, with plans for occasional after-hours events. The simple menu offers coffee, sandwiches and salads.
Lemon is well-known for her Coffee with Strangers podcast, in which she interviews interesting Richmonders about what they're doing around town. She is a visible figure in the city, recognized for her smiling enthusiasm and community support. On Wednesday, her crew returned the favor at Urban Hang Suite's opening.
"We served 200 people just for breakfast," Lemon says, stepping away from the order counter. "It's been amazing, way past my expectations."
Facing some last-minute snafus with food service, Lemon had pared down the opening menu to just a few sandwiches. Most restaurant owners would react with panic or anger, but Lemon is all smiles.
"We were up until 3 in the morning, and then back here at 5 a.m. to open for breakfast," she says. "Basically, I went home just to shower."
She glosses over the opening-day challenges, projecting confidence and flexibility. "It's all new," she says. "I need to see what people like and what direction it goes."
Urban Hang Suite's order counter is in the front room. A chalkboard menu on the back wall lists breakfast bagel sandwiches, lunch salads, sandwiches and several grain bowls. With no kitchen, the food is pre-made, with counter staff doing some assembly and additions. Lemon is applying for an ABC license and plans to serve local beers, Virginia wines and a few signature cocktails.
"Our goal is to transition to at least 80 percent local sourcing with our vendors," Lemon explains. Currently she offers Lamplighter coffee, and relies on Richmond-based food supplier Performance Food Group. (The writer is married to someone who works for the company.) "We want to cycle the money right back into the community," she says.
The action is through a curtained doorway into the back room. Banquette seating and small tables nestle together to encourage conversation. Eventually, Lemon plans to have DJs and live music on the small stage in a back corner.
Bright art and antiques create an eclectic but warm vibe, while '90s R&B music plays on multiple wall monitors. The music isn't at dance volume, but it's too loud to encourage laptop work. Which is fine for Lemon, as she wants to encourage conversation.
"I was listening yesterday, and one table was talking about what they were going to do over the weekend, another table was talking about college football, and another was talking about politics and the election," Lemon says. "You can't tell me those conversations didn't overlap or they didn't hear each other. This allows people to jump into the conversation, or maybe just listen and learn something new." S
Urban Hang Suite
304 E. Broad St.
Daily 7 a.m. - 7 p.m.