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How Laura Lee’s helped Michael Smith find his voice in Richmond

When you walk into a Richmond restaurant, Michael Smith is the kind of person you want to encounter.
Posted: 9:02 AM, Feb 03, 2020
Updated: 2020-02-03 09:42:56-05

RICHMOND, Va. -- When you walk into a Richmond restaurant, Michael Smith is the kind of person you want to encounter.

"You'll see me most nights at the front door greeting guests," Smith, the general manager of  Laura Lee's Semmes Avenue in south Richmond, told Eat It, Virginia! co-hosts Scott Wise and Robey Martin. "I'm not this satellite manager that sits in an office and comes out when it's time to do the money at the end of the night. I'm very hands on."

For Smith, hands on means making sure his guests are kept comfortable from the moment they arrive.

"What I try to bring to the table, from a hospitality standpoint, is just warmth all around. We want people to feel like they're wanted there. Oftentimes the place is packed, but because we're a large restaurant, we can find you a spot. If it's in the lounge or if it's at the bar, if it's in the patio outside, there's a space for you, until there's a better space for you."

Smith described Laura Lee's as a female-centeric fern bar, opposite the vibe of his previous job at the lauded Richmond restaurant The Roosevelt. Both restaurants are owned by Kendra Feather.

"We wanted to interpret a restaurant in a way that was a little less about male ego and more about feminine sensibilities. So what does [Kendra] do? She hires me," Smith said with a laugh.

Smith also recounted the intense celebrity encounter he once had while running Amuse, the restaurant inside Virginia Museum of Fine Arts in Richmond.