Oct 24, 2022 - Food and Drink

Restaurant Week is back in person — and it’s never been more needed

Illustration of a waiter holding a silver serving tray featuring a bag of groceries

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Richmond Restaurant Week — the twice-annual event that supports the local food bank — is back starting today and in person for fall for the first time since 2019.

Why it matters: Many local restaurants are in a fight for survival, while Feed More is in critical need of support as it heads into the holiday season, its biggest time of need, participants and organizers tell Axios.

What's happening: All week, 40 locally owned restaurants are offering a three-course, prix fixe meal for $35.22 a person, with $5 of every meal going to Feed More.

What they're saying: "We at Feed More like to say $1 helps us provide four meals to Central Virginians in need, so those five bucks are helping to provide 20 meals," Christy Dalton, who leads Feed More's community engagement, tells Axios.

  • In its 21-year history, RRW has raised nearly $1 million for Feed More, Dalton tells Axios.

Local restaurants took a beating during the pandemic and still haven't fully recovered as they now grapple with rising food and labor costs, Shane Roberts, chef and owner of Southern Kitchen in Jackson Ward, tells Axios.

  • "As an example, I'm known for my fried chicken. I was paying $60 a case for chicken. Now I'm paying a hundred-something," Roberts said.

Still, Roberts said they'll use the week to focus on quality to showcase what they can do and hopefully bring in some new, long-term regulars.

Restaurant Week is needed at this moment because of the increase in food insecurity and the upending of the restaurant industry since 2020, Aline Reitzer, who founded the event in 2001 and organizes it each year, tells Axios.

Reitzer and her husband Dale stood on the sidelines of the daily restaurant grind the last two years.

  • In February 2020, the couple closed Acacia, their restaurant of 21 years that helped establish Richmond as a food town.
  • They'd sold the Fan District building that housed it the month before and planned to take a brief break and reopen Acacia in another part of town.
  • They signed a lease earlier this year to reopen Acacia in Libbie Mill shopping center, which should open this year.

"It was extremely difficult" to watch their industry colleagues struggling through ever-changing business restrictions and the loss of business that came with people staying home, she said. "We consider ourselves extremely lucky."

"This business has always been challenging," her husband said, but it's crucial that restaurants survive. "Restaurants are culture. Having a thriving restaurant scene … a city with all kinds of cuisine … it makes a community more fun."

A restaurant week flashback
an illustration of a sign that reads Mom and pop
Illustration: Annelise Capossela/Axios

In many ways, the story of Richmond Restaurant Week is the story of Richmond's 21st-century dining scene.

  • Reitzer put together the first RRW in 2001, borrowing the concept from New York City and adding a charitable portion to make it unique to Richmond.
  • Nine restaurants participated that year — about as many that could do a high-end, $20.01, three-course menu at the time.

The event grew over the next two decades, as did Richmond's dining scene.

  • Rival events cropped up. A spring week was added. The price went up — as did the charitable portion — and participants quadrupled.

Then COVID hit. Dining rooms shuttered, and food insecurity spiked.

  • "It was one of the first things we said: 'What's happening with Restaurant Week?'" Dalton tells Axios. "That's the impact."

During the pandemic, restaurants honored the spring and fall weeks with an optional $5 donation for diners to add to their orders instead of special menus.

  • Those weeks brought in about $12,000 each time for Feed More — far less than the $50,000-$60,000 a traditional week brought in.

"While it was smaller, we were so grateful. We knew they were struggling to stay open," Dalton said.

Of the 41 restaurants that participated in the fall 2019 event, six have closed for good.

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