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How Jay Bayer helped bring Saison and Bingo to the Richmond restaurant scene

Posted at 10:18 AM, Dec 01, 2021
and last updated 2021-12-03 06:54:49-05

RICHMOND, Va. -- When Jay Bayer entered the Richmond dining scene as a bartender in the mid-2000s, he started to get very excited about beer, but at that time, the options in Richmond were limited.

"I was actually working at Galaxy Diner, fresh out of college. And then left there went to Capitol Ale House," Bayer said about his entrance into Richmond dine. "Beer was my first true love. The thing that I knew in an epicurean zone that I really wanted to explore."

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So he packed up and moved to Chicago in 2008 to attend the Siebel Institute's brewing academy.

When he returned to Richmond, the microbrewery scene had not yet taken off, so Bayer adjusted his plan.

"I went back into tending bar at Ale House. I was there for a while when I met my first business partner Adam Hall. He and I started homebrewing together, doing dinners together, and really formed the ideas around what Saison would end up being."

Nearly a decade later, Saison, on Marshall Street, remains one of Richmond's favorite places to eat and drink.

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"We thought we were opening a beer bar in a neighborhood. But as soon as the quality of the drinks that were being put out from behind the bar connected with a handful of people, and word started spreading, we immediately were like, 'alright, we are now a cocktail bar that serves really interesting beers and a fun wine list.'"

Saison was among the restaurants that created some of the buzz that helped turn Richmond into a foodie town filled with can't miss dining options.

"You could just really see how much the city was really craving so much at that point [in 2012]," he recalled. "It felt like the rumbling inside the volcano was building up steam. And then it was just waiting for that moment to really go."

The eruption of Saison [and Saison Market] was helped by a Food Network star's appreciation of the market's chicken biscuit.

"We have a policy to not be too fanboy around famous people whether actors, musicians, food personalities, but everybody just barely contained themselves freaking out when Alton Brown came in," Bayer said. "So he came in and takes a picture of himself where he's got like a little bit of biscuit crumb on his little five o'clock shadow beard and like a cheek full of chicken and biscuit."

That photo, later posted on social media, was Saison's first viral moment, Bayer said.

"All of a sudden, my phone just starts going wild," he laughed. "The success of the chicken biscuit built a name for Saison Market. That place developed because we noticed there wasn't a nice wine and beer market in the neighborhood. We had all this wine and beer that was in the basement that we were using to sell at Saison. So we just put some shelves up and see if we can make something out of this and then the chicken biscuit really, really took that off."

Building off his Saison success, Bayer helped build Bingo.

The large brewery-restaurant-video game space on Broad Street near Arthur Ashe Boulevard was born after a chance meeting at a Richmond bar.

"A First Friday evening, Quirk had just opened and Ted and Katie Ukrop were hanging out at the bar. Ted and I just started chatting. He was mentioning how happy he was to have the Quirk open downtown, how much he loved downtown, how important it was to him as a kid," Bayer said. "He was just very thankful for what Saison had shown and how kind of how much easier it made talking to the folks about we can do so much more with Broad Street. This is a thriving and vibrant part of the city. So he and I started a conversation, like what do you what would you want to do next?"

Bayer fell back to his beer roots and Bingo Beer Co. was born.

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jay Bayer (second from left) at Bingo Beer Co. in November 2018.

"[We] wanted to bring the culinary side, the bar side, and gaming and fun into a space, a large space for having fun," he said. "Ted actually discovered this space from friends of his. It was clearly a space that had not been kept up in any way since its most recent iteration as a bingo hall. But you can still tell just from the size of it, space of it, and the location kind of trajectory of where Scott's Addition was headed that it was like a really great opportunity to be right here on Broad."

Hear more about what Jay Bayer brings to his Richmond restaurants on this week's Eat It, Virginia podcast.

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