RICHMOND, Va. -- In an effort to start 2021 on a sunny note, Eat It, Virginia! asked listeners to nominate the chefs, restaurant owners, and food industry people who seem to remain positive, even during the darkest days.
Chef Evan Campbell was one name that appeared over and over again in the nominations.
As executive chef at both The Stables and The Franklin Inn, Campbell has had to navigate a most difficult time in the restaurant industry as COVID has changed the way everything worked. So how does he stay positive amid this chaotic time?
“I just woke up like this,” Campbell joked with Scott and Robey before he dove into the real reason behind his seemingly permanent smile. “Life's too short to not approach every day with at least some semblance of positivity. I tell every person that I hire in any place that I work, we all have to be here every day. And for a lot of us, we spend more time in the restaurant than we do in our own homes. So let's make it a fun place to be. I've never been a leave-your-problems-at-the-door kind of guy because certainly, you have problems. But if you understand that your workplace, especially in this industry, is for a lot of folks more like home, especially now where we can't see anybody else really get to see each other. It's best to keep it positive.”
With stops in Boston and New Orleans, the Virginia native returned to the Commonwealth to leave his mark at the Stables and later the Franklin Inn. Now he’s had to transform the restaurants for the times, coming up with foods that worked well in a to-go format.
“We have not stopped. I mean, the minute that everything shut down, I created a new menu strictly for take-out food that was budget-friendly, because I knew everybody was afraid about what's going to happen with their own jobs,” he said. “Once that settled for a bit, we were losing money at quite a fast rate. I pivoted again and I created a menu that was more stylistically what we've always done here at the Stables but could be put in plastic containers and sent out without majorly impacting the food."
Campbell said restrictions, plus rising prices, have put most restaurants in a perilous position.
“Most weeks we aren't making money and we're booked almost every night. With restrictions where they're at half capacity with limited takeout and delivery, most of the restaurants in town are just losing money really slowly. If you're doing well, you're losing money slowly. If you're not, then you're losing money really quickly, “ he said. “If one more person in Richmond says, ‘well think of all the new places that are going to open,’ I'm going to smack somebody across the face. For us to be working so hard and for people to not understand that. It's going to majorly change the food culture in Richmond.”
Despite the hardships, Campbell wanted to put a positive spin on the situation.
“We're looking at end of January, beginning of February, for vaccines to start coming to restaurant workers. And I can't speak for everybody but I could not be more excited just to get the ball rolling to make sure that we're continuing to be as safe as we can so that we can keep doing what we're doing,” he said. “My hope is that in conjunction with these vaccine rollouts, we can start seeing some lifting of restrictions, at least to the degree that you know, we are able to serve more people in a safer and reasonable fashion.”
The Stables at Belmont
201 N Belmont Avenue
Richmond, VA 23221
The Franklin Inn
800 N. Cleveland Street
Richmond, VA 23221
On the farm with Libby Lewis