May 9, 2024 - Food and Drink

New restaurants are flocking to Richmond's suburbs

Illustration of a white picket fence, with two of the posts replaced with oversized silverware.

Illustration: Maura Losch/Axios

The counties around Richmond are seeing a post-pandemic surge in restaurant openings that in some years has outpaced new eateries opening in the city, VCU's Capital News Service reports.

Why it matters: Richmond has historically been the region's dining center (as are most cities everywhere), but COVID changed nearly everything about the world, including where we eat.

The big picture: The pandemic made local restaurant owners reconsider their city-centric business strategies. That's motivated some to follow their clientele out of the city and into the suburbs to meet new hybrid-work lifestyles, writes CNS.

  • Downtown parking concerns and Richmond's 7.5% meals tax — #rvadine's perennial villain — made it even easier for some customers to stick closer to home. Henrico's meals tax is 4%, and Chesterfield doesn't have one.

State of play: Chesterfield and Henrico each added between 75 and 100 or more new restaurants every year between 2020 and 2023 — a sharp increase from their pre-pandemic numbers, according to data from the Virginia Department of Health shared with CNS reporters.

  • Meanwhile Richmond has hovered at around 100 new restaurants annually since 2020, down from the 120 that opened in 2019.

Among the restaurants that made the city-to-county move:

  • Acacia Mid-town, which closed its Richmond location in 2020 and opened last year in Henrico.
  • Eat Restaurant Partners, once Richmond's biggest local restaurant ownership group, closed Foo Dog and Hot Chick in 2022 to focus on expanding their other concepts in the county and outside of Richmond.
  • Lindsey Food Group, Richmond's current biggest restaurant ownership group, opened Farm + Oak in Henrico last year and ML Steak in Chesterfield. It has two more restaurants in the works for Chesterfield this year.
  • And Chef David Dunlap, who was lured out of the D.C. area in 2015 to open the restaurant inside the Quirk Hotel and since 2021 has opened two of his own in Chesterfield: Midlothian Chef's Kitchen and 1870.

Yes, but: Independent restaurant owners started eyeing the 'burbs prior to the pandemic, according to a Times-Dispatch report in September 2019.

  • By the eve of the pandemic, the local dining scene had grown at twice the rate of the population in years prior, the RTD found.
  • An increase in competition, over-saturation of city restaurants and Richmond's meals tax were among the reasons local operators were looking to the counties for growth.

Yes, and: Not all restaurants are created equal, at least when it comes to how most diners think about restaurants.

  • There are full-service, sit-down restaurants and then there are fast-food and fast casual spots. And Richmond continues to rein supreme on the full-service front.

By the numbers: As of the close of last year, there were 731 restaurants in the city of Richmond, 170 of which were fast food or fast casual, according to data from the Virginia Department of Health shared with Axios.

  • Henrico had 789, including a whopping 457 fast-food restaurants.
  • Chesterfield boasted 645 restaurants, including 301 fast-food joints.

And every locality except Chesterfield has more restaurants today than they did in 2019, per the RTD data.

  • In 2019, Richmond had 670 full service and fast-food restaurants, Henrico 714, and Chesterfield 694.

The bottom line: City-centric dining in Richmond isn't dead — far from it.

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