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INNOVATION: Next Generation

Look out for ingenious new concepts – and faces – this year. 

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It’s about time Richmond got its own food hall. 

From Miami to Austin to Cincinnati, major culinary destinations across the U.S. have been opening their own bustling open-air markets and upscale food courts for the past half-decade. 

Hatch Local Food Hall plans to open this spring in Manchester’s new development, the Current, with seven vendors, two bars, outdoor dining and a market. Hatch Local is an extension of the young but thriving Hatch brand, which also includes Hatch Kitchen and Hatch Cafe. 

The beauty of a food hall is variety, with up-and-coming chefs able to sling their signature dishes – be they fried chicken sandwiches or braised pork tamales – in a high-traffic area. Plus, veteran chefs who want to conduct a little research before opening another brick and mortar may use the food hall model to their advantage, teasing menu items and gathering intel from consumers.  

As natural a fit as it is for Richmond to welcome a food hall into its vibrant dining scene, it also feels like, perhaps, an inopportune moment to helm multiple concepts under one roof. 

“A food hall has the potential for absolute chaos,” admits Hatch co-founder and executive director Austin Green. “A singular restaurant can be, and is, wonderfully chaotic in some ways. You put eight or nine different entities in one building – you’ve really got to put a lot of thought into making that harmonious.”

Eight or nine different entities in one building during a global pandemic, no less. 

But Green is accustomed to overseeing wonderful chaos. Hatch only opened in January 2019, but the high-tech commissary kitchen has already produced multiple success stories including Nightingale Ice Cream Sandwiches, Cobra Burger, Fat Rabbit Cakes and SousCasa. 

Green says Hatch Local Food Hall will be open seven days a week, offering a full espresso bar plus a bar outfitted with all the libations your heart desires. It has confirmed two vendors so far: Mike Lindsey’s Buttermilk and Honey and Sincero RVA, led by Alex Bobadilla and Karen Negvesky.  

The food hall will also have a rotating chef-in-residence who will create a menu to pair with the onsite bar program. “This is for any restaurateur who wants to try a certain concept, they can be from established restaurants here in Richmond or come from Charlottesville, D.C., Maryland, and beyond,” Green says. 

While the chef-in-residency vendor will be limited to a specific time, Green notes that all the other vendors have flexible timelines, able to stay and prosper as long as they’d like. “I think it will be a destination,” Green says. “Because of the really high-quality vendors we are putting there, it will be a foodie paradise. People will want to try multiple vendors.”

Green says those applying for food hall slots have been both brand new faces as well as longtime Richmond chefs who may have worked in multiple kitchens, but have never had their own, distinct concept. 

“The way we’ve structured Hatch Local is we are providing them with an opportunity to try a new concept with much lower costs up front,” says Green. 

Vendors will not have to pay monthly rent. Instead, Hatch will take a percentage of their sales. The food hall will set up utilities, internet, point of sales systems and trash – all the vendors need to bring is equipment and delicious eats. 

With a projected spring opening, food hall diners will be able to take advantage of the development’s courtyard and exterior patio, built-in pandemic pluses. 

“We’ve taken a long hard look at other food halls,” says Green. “We’ve had the advantage of looking at this through the lens of COVID, so we’ve really thought a lot about queuing and how to deal with people trying to enjoy the food hall, but at a safe distance from each other.”

All entrepreneurs now, it seems, are strategizing and envisioning new concepts through the lens of the pandemic. 

Perch chef Mike Ledesma opened his to-go only restaurant InstaBowl in the fall. “The concept came about this summer when we were trying to figure out ‘How the heck are we going to get to the masses and pay people and keep things running,’” Ledesma says. 

The Fan’s fast-casual, chef-driven restaurant specializes not only in travel-friendly bowls – think waffle tacos, kale salads and seafood pho – but also in training the next generation of local chefs. “We can teach them how to control expenses and run a business,” Ledesma says. “During the pandemic what do these guys need? They need education for next steps.”

Ledesma, along with the InstaBowl core crew – Sergio Gomez-Ramos, Kevin Tate and Christopher Smith – is learning to make adjustments daily as members interact with fellow chefs and customers. The latter, Ledesma notes, can be as mercurial as ever, even during a pandemic. 

Mike Ledesma, Kevin Tate and Sergio Gomez-Ramos serve travel-friendly meals at their pandemic-proof restaurant, InstaBowl. - SCOTT ELMQUIST
  • Scott Elmquist
  • Mike Ledesma, Kevin Tate and Sergio Gomez-Ramos serve travel-friendly meals at their pandemic-proof restaurant, InstaBowl.

“We still get shitty reviews about how our bowls are too expensive,” Ledesma says. “At Perch we’ll have customers come in without a mask – it’s tricky to be a server during this time, that’s why you see these concepts [like InstaBowl] coming out. I think that the take-away is, with the pandemic you can quit or you can find a solution.” 

For Beth Dixon, who also is a former Perch employee, finding a solution to putting food on the table meant leaning into her finely honed skills as a master mixologist. 

Dixon’s main gig is a bartender at L’Opossum, but she needed to supplement her income as the pandemic decreased indoor dining options. For her side job, Salt and Acid, Dixon plays host to Zoom happy hours and private, in-home bar consulting. 

Longtime RVA bar professional Beth Dixon recently launched a side business, Salt and Acid, hosting Zoom happy hours and offering in-home bar consulting. - SCOTT ELMQUIST
  • Scott Elmquist
  • Longtime RVA bar professional Beth Dixon recently launched a side business, Salt and Acid, hosting Zoom happy hours and offering in-home bar consulting.

“I’ve been doing a lot of this stuff for years,” she says. “I’ve been teaching bar classes and doing specialty cocktails either privately or for food festivals, I wanted to put all of these things under one place.”

Salt and Acid is all service – Dixon isn’t selling any booze to her clients. Instead, she sends out recipes and ingredients for people to collect on their own and then leads a fun and interactive cocktail-making course. 

“Every group is different, I’ve done corporate happy hours and nonprofits and friend groups,” Dixon says. Each class features one shaken and one stirred cocktail, with classic recipes and inventive original concoctions thrown in the mix, depending on client preference. 

The other branch of Dixon’s business is in-home bar consulting, which she hopes to continue even after Zoom interactions die down, she says.

“I analyze peoples’ home bars and tell them what to get to fill out the bar, then I come to their house – we all wear masks – and I show them how to make drinks. It’s very fluid. I usually come with a couple recipes in mind.” 

The result is you get your very own signature household cocktail, a drink to be enjoyed with your family, and, one day, visiting friends. 

Dixon says the greatest boon of being her own boss is not having to face the unrelenting stress of dealing with working daily in the restaurant industry during a pandemic, though she still faces stressors at her in-person bartending job, of course.

“The pandemic 100% pushed me to do this on my own – I had to do something on my own at a certain point,” Dixon says. “I was feeling run-down in the restaurant, working during a pandemic is super-stressful and very chaotic. I’ve seen a serious impact on the mental health of restaurant workers.”

As demanding as it is, Dixon says she isn’t ready to fully abandon the restaurant industry for her solo venture just yet.

“We are a tough bunch of people who work in restaurants. We’re tough by nature, if you can put up with the abuse of guests. … We were pretty built for this.

“We are going to be all right. We’re hanging in there.”

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