Garden veggie vegan focaccia. Focaccia stuffed with potato, Hatch chile and goat cheese. Scenes etched on focaccia depicting verdant flower gardens and Bob Ross daydreams and even a doughy interpretation of Edvard Munch’s “The Scream.”
Wildcraft Focaccia Co. owner Thomas Parfitt has a background in food and gardening, as made very evident by his Wildcraft Instagram which until recently was focused on research-and-development photos of the baked goods listed above.
Within the past couple of weeks though, we’ve gotten a glimpse of Parfitt’s soon-to-open Manchester homage to Mother Earth. At 1303 Hull S., Wildcraft Focaccia Co. will be up and running for lunch and dinner service in July.
Parfitt and business partner and Wildcraft co-owner Kevin Murphy have been working on the building since the fall, dealing with the standard rigmarole of permitting and contracting and invoicing. But they’re nearly there, with hiring set to start in a few days.
The two men have been friends since Murphy moved to Richmond from his native New York in 2006. “I knew Tom was putting together this project two, maybe two-and-a-half years ago,” he says. Murphy built a career in health care financial management and financial information systems management, but in his spare time he’s an avid baker.
“We would talk regularly about ‘What did you put in this bread?’ and ‘What hydration content did you use?’” Murphy says. “One day we just got to talking and Tom said, ‘You should quit your job and be my business partner.’ And I said, ‘OK!’”
A numbers and spreadsheets guy, Murphy is busy on QuickBooks the morning we chat. “He thrives on that,” says Parfitt, laughing.
Parfitt, meanwhile, thrives on the nature around him – the restaurant is already filled to the brim with a variety of potted plants. “I wanted to cross my two passions,” he says. “One being the food world and the other being wildcrafting and growing food and using what is around us.”
Before endeavoring to open his own restaurant, Parfitt worked his way up the food and beverage industry ladder, washing dishes in college and cheffing at places around town such as Zeus Gallery Café and Ipanema Café, as well as a now-shuttered Washington fine-dining establishment, CityZen.
Most recently, Parfitt worked at the University of Richmond where he developed and taught various programs for its Center for Culinary Arts, including the baking and pastry program, the nutrition and food science program, and the food service management program. He has a master’s degree in permaculture, the sustainable and self-sufficient approach to land management and development of agricultural ecosystems.
This means that Parfitt does not spray his yard with Roundup or use chemical fertilizers while tending to his garden’s asparagus, zucchini and tomato plants. A Parfitt family salad may consist of dandelions, pokeweeds, violets and clovers, all foraged from the backyard.
“Wildcrafting is just the art of finding things in nature and utilizing them,” Parfitt says. “So you can wildcraft by foraging for mushrooms or you can wildcraft by looking for natural yeast in the air, which is our sourdough.”
The accidental beauty that Parfitt has stumbled upon and woven into his home baking experiments will evolve, slightly, in a proper brick and mortar format. But there remains, even with counter service and QR codes, the deep-seated philosophy that food should be good, simple, made well and with as little waste as possible.
“We really aren’t doing landfill,” says Parfitt, who notes that Wildcraft will be working closely with Compost RVA. Everything in the restaurant – from dishes to the food scraps – will be reusable, recyclable or compostable.
While both Murphy and Parfitt bake other things besides focaccia, as the name implies, the Wildcraft menu is completely centered on this particular flat oven-baked bread.
“People think of mac and cheese or meatloaf as comfort food, for me it’s focaccia and Italian salami,” Parfitt says. “I grew up in central Jersey and every so often, I’d swipe 90 cents off my dad’s dresser and go buy a slice of Sicilian pizza, or get a loaf of bread or danish at the bakery. … I have a very personal connection to this food.”
“There’s a textural element to it as well,” Murphy muses about the focaccia. “The crunch crust on the bottom, the soft open crumb, and it’s not very technique-heavy in terms of making it.”
Parfitt nods, “It’s simple. Everything should be simple in here. Everything has a place.”
Another simple fact that the men immediately discussed – and wholeheartedly agreed upon – was that Wildcraft employees would be treated with respect.
And respect looks like a living wage.
“We want people to come in here and work regular shifts and be able to afford their apartment,” says Parfitt, who understands all too well the atmosphere a poorly run establishment can create when it’s normal to work “70-plus hours a week for 30 grand.”
“If the only way to make the equation work is to exploit people, then the equation isn’t working,” Murphy points out. “That’s something we decided up front.”
Wildcraft will be open for lunch and dinner, “we’re looking at 11 a.m. to 9 p.m.,” Murphy says. They plan to have a small but mighty menu of microbrews and cool, curated wines by the glass and bottle. Wildcraft menu items will include toasted flatbreads (light on toppings) topped flatbreads (more balanced topping-bread ratio) and stuffed flatbreads (think loaded mojo pork iterations) plus sandwiches, soups, salads and homemade pies and tarts.
There will also be build-your-own flatbreads, starting at $14 for a half pan and $21 for a full pan. Parfitt notes that they’ll be growing the vegetables on the menu, like capers, onions, mushrooms and roasted eggplants in their own gardens. They’ll get other toppings, like seasonal local produce and chicken, from Palmyra-based permaculture farm, ShireFolk.
They’ll also have a deli case up front with to-go meats, cheese and olives for people in the neighborhood who want to swing by for provisions.
“It’s been so great to meet everyone,” Murphy says about moving into this Hull Street strip next to spots like Pig and Brew and A&F Seafood Deli.
“I keep telling our neighbors, when you start smelling food – just come on in.”