If you hear someone had a fantastic cup of coffee from surrounding counties, they may not mean Chesterfield or Henrico. Their specialty latte or cold brew may have actually come from Surrounding Counties Specialty Coffee Explorers Club, a café near Regency run by Zach Archibald, one of the founders and still a part-owner of Lamplighter Coffee Roasters.
Archibald opened the coffee shop two years ago after moving to the suburbs so that his teenage daughter could play field hockey with her favorite coach. With 13 years of experience leading Lamplighter’s kitchen, he couldn’t stand the idea of walking away from the café scene altogether and instead decided to take the best of Richmond’s coffee culture into the suburbs with him.
“I grew up in a suburb with a repeating hegemony of chain restaurants, and you don’t get any of these unique culinary adventures that are part and parcel of city living,” Archibald explains. “So what I wanted to do is take my experience as one of the originators of Richmond style specialty food and coffee and make an outpost of it out here in the suburbs.”
When Surrounding Counties first opened on Halloween in 2020, Archibald expected to have to create his own customers out of suburbanites more accustomed to Starbucks and Dunkin. What he found is that many of his original Lamplighter customers had long been priced out of the city and into the suburbs, where they were more than eager for a taste of their old urban lifestyles. Now he’s hoping his shop can lure Richmonders into the sprawl to see the suburbs of today are vastly different (and more interesting) than those from the 1950s or even the 1990s.
“The idea is to get people from Richmond to come out and explore the counties,” says Archibald. “We have trails and exciting businesses that folks who live in the city may never encounter. We’re all way more alike than most people believe, no matter what the borders say. We need to tear down the boundaries between us.”
To incentivize city slickers to make the drive (or hour plus bus ride) out to Surrounding Counties, Archibald has stuck to the specialty coffee ethos that fueled Lamplighter’s rise in Richmond.
“Specialty coffee is the idea that you can impact the supply chain on all ends by paying importers, growers, roasters a fair price and thus a fair wage,” he explains. “You don’t have to fuck over other people to survive. You can actually help everyone thrive by being intentional with your business.”
His strong sense of right and wrong also led him to introduce a “pay what you can” policy in the shop. Customers who want to help the less fortunate can add value to a card Archibald swipes when one of his patrons is struggling to pay.
“Across from us is a high school, so I didn’t want to open a place that was inviting but was not financially within reach of the people across the street,” he says, adding that he wanted to still cover all of the costs “associated with quality products and fair wages and also remove barriers for potential customers.”
Whether he’s serving beans from Proud Mary Coffee Roasters out of Portland or from the local Afterglow Coffee Cooperative (a breakaway business of Lamplighter), quality is always front of mind for Archibald. Surrounding Counties’ signature is a rosemary brown sugar sea salt latte flavored with a house-made syrup. Archibald also recommends the Sweety Petey, a play on Thai coffee that donates a nickel per order to local rap legend and friend of the shop Nickelus F.
Where Surrounding Counties clearly shines is in its food offerings. From oven-baked cast iron skillet sandwiches to lox bagels topped with marinated tomato salad, Archibald’s mastery of fresh flavors and years spent fine-tuning the Lamplighter food menu is on full display.
Beyond the grit bowls, avocado toasts, and biscuits of the day, perhaps the food item Surrounding Counties is most famous for are its Texas-style kolaches. Each morning around 5 a.m., Archibald begins baking an array of rolls ranging from maple sriracha glazed and vegan marinara and herbs to andouille sausage pimiento cheese and biscuits and gravy. His 6:45 morning post always reveals what flavors inspired him.
No matter what Surrounding Counties has brewing or baking, Archibald stands by the top-notch quality of what he’s serving: “We’re introducing a lot of our customers out here in the suburbs to some of the city’s finest foods.”