RICHMOND, Va - The daily scramble and stress of prepping for dinner service are constants for Shane Roberts-Thomas and her staff.
The owner of Southern Kitchen in Jackson Ward said that the hustle and bustle is even more special this week. Southern Kitchen is one of more than three dozen Richmond restaurants taking part in the first in-person Richmond Restaurant Week since the pandemic began.
“Imagine owning a business of that nature through all of this: pandemic, food costs, payroll costs, shortage of labor, I could go on and on. Hats off to any restaurant that has survived this, some of us could not survive,” she said.
For more than 20 years now, the bi-annual celebration of local restaurants raises money for Feed More, Central Virginia’s main food bank. Each participating restaurant offers a three-course meal for $35.22, and $5.22 of the meal goes directly to providing meals to your neighbors who are food insecure.
Since 2001, Richmond Restaurant Week has raised nearly $1 million for Feed More. You can reserve a spot online and find participating restaurants here.
“[I am] a product of Richmond Public School, and also a product of free lunch at times, and also a product of the need to fulfill someone else's hunger,” Roberts-Thomas said. “So as a proprietor now in a different place, it warms my heart to stroke that check at the end of this donation period. Aline, hats off to them. Hats off to the whole group.”
Roberts-Thomas said her reservations were completely booked for both of the first two nights. The struggle it took to get her restaurant to this point gives this week even more meaning.
“I’m sure the other restauranteurs would tell you the same thing: some of us took second mortgages on our homes to survive. Some of us took loans and lines of credit that we were paying back now, so we're still recovering,” she said. “Most of us small restaurant groups, this is our lifeline. This is our baby. This is what we live for. This is what we've invested in. So, when you tell a person your baby might not be able to make it, you are almost killing their dreams.”
Southern Kitchen’s survival and now continued recovery hinged on adapting quickly and focusing on taking care of staff, according to Roberts-Thomas. She instituted a minimum gratuity and other wage standards at Southern Kitchen.
“In this environment that we all work in, everybody gets a piece of the pie, the owner doesn't just eat well, everyone in here gets a piece of the pie,” Roberts-Thomas said.
The journey from two years ago to now gives Roberts-Thomas an even greater appreciation for their full dining rooms.
“It finally gets me into a place where I can really, really spread the joy. So sometimes joy is within, and you can't spread it all the time. But now, I'm seeing 30 restaurants who get to have some joy, and I get to have joy alongside the customers tonight,” Roberts-Thomas said. “You do not understand the power in the numbers of people this week that will help us feed more and small restaurant to pay some bills.”
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