Scott Jones is exhausted. There have been lines out of the door at Sally Bell’s Kitchen since it opened at 11 a.m., and now he’s trying to catch up on paperwork. While we talk, the phone rings constantly.
If you’ve been living under a cobblestone or are new to Richmond, you need to do a search of the Paris Review, the New York Times, Bon Appétit or Saveur for Sally Bell’s. The 90-year-old, James Beard Award-winning spot is a bona fide Richmond institution, and many locals would have starved to death if it hadn’t been for those box lunches.
And — shockingly — the home of the one and only upside-down cupcake has moved. It’s now open at 2337 W. Broad St., and Sally Bell’s owners are finishing up clearing out the old, original space on West Grace Street for the new owner, Virginia Commonwealth University.
Jones is the third generation to help run the beloved takeout restaurant — he and his wife, Martha, a Sally Bell’s veteran of 31 years, co-own it. That’s a remarkable thing. Most family companies fall apart after the second generation.
“It wasn’t far from that happening with us, to be quite honest,” Jones says. “In a lot of ways it could have been easily closed.”
Jones’ mother owns the building, and she was readying her estate. The family has known since 2014 that VCU was moving east, so Jones approached the university on behalf of his mother and struck a deal.
“They’ve done a lot to improve that area,” he says. “We’ve seen it all in the past 90 years.”
One reason the family has held onto the business is to preserve original owner Sarah Cabell Jones’ legacy. She opened the business in 1924 — it was only four years earlier that the 19th Amendment gave women the right to vote, Jones notes. Her brothers didn’t think she could make it work.
“She was a pioneer,” he says.
The new space is larger and has — gasp— booths for customers who want to dine in. Jones says that hot dishes soon will appear on the menu — classic Southern comfort food such as hot, open-faced roast beef sandwiches with mashed potatoes and chicken noodle soup.
“We’re going to ease into it,” he says.
So far, Richmonders who don’t like change don’t mind Sally Bell’s changes at all. “This move is overdue,” Jones says. “My 94-year-old mother, who was here on opening day, says that Cabell would have approved.” sallybellskitchen.com.