Two years ago, owners of Pescados in Midlothian expanded into Oregon Hill. Now the restaurant has a new menu, a new name, and a new way to appeal to RVA.
- Who: Co-owned by Todd Manley and Bob Windsor, Chef Trevor Knotts and Sous Chef Sean McGee
- What: Seafood-centric Pescados China Street retooled its menu to offer a more economical, eclectic range of items, rebranding itself EAT Oregon Hill.
- When: New menu premiered in September
- Where: 626 China Street, Oregon Hill
- Why: Create a menu that is “more friendly and more fun” for Oregon Hill and the city.
- Dishes: Pescados China Street favorites fish tacos and voodoo shrimp. New items like Duck Duck Goose (seared duck breast with hominy grit cake crusted in duck skin), BBQ lettuce wraps (ginger plum BBQ duck confit), PB & J (panzanella salad of toasted brioche, sliced grapes, and thai vinaigrette).
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For nearly a decade, Pescados has offered an eclectic seafood mix amid tropical decor just off of Midlothian Turnpike. In June 2010, the local brand sprouted within city limits, opening Pescados China Street in Oregon Hill. Two years later, Pescados China Street is no more–but it hasn’t gone away entirely. With a revamped menu and a new name, EAT Oregon Hill is making a new play to win over diners.
“We’ve had overwhelmingly good responses,” said Todd Manley, co-owner of EAT Oregon Hill, which launched its new menu in September. “We’re psyched.”
In 2003, Manley helped open Pescados in Chesterfield. Signature items like the Snapper Cancun made the restaurant a popular choice for seafood lovers in the area. In 2010, Manley and Bob Windsor partnered in opening Pescados China Street, meant to bring the exceptional reputation of the Midlothian seafood restaurant to Oregon Hill.
“We were doing OK,” said Manley, reflecting on the business the second Pescados did. But a lack of storage space and other limitations meant “we couldn’t really do a true Pescados experience.” A higher price point also didn’t help.
Despite compliments on the food, the dwindling economy slowed sales of the higher-priced seafood items. Manley routinely heard we just can’t afford it from customers. Not only that, being seafood specific, the menu was unappealing to those not enticed by nature’s underwater edibles. But even more, the restaurant “didn’t see a lot of Oregon Hill residents.” As an Oregon Hill resident himself, this was perhaps the most disheartening development to Manley. There was only one clear remedy. “Let’s make a change.”
The task for Manley and his kitchen staff (Chef Trevor Knotts and Sous Chef Sean McGee) was this: “how can we make the menu more friendly and more fun for the neighborhood?” To start, they retooled their offerings to “feature” seafood, not specialize in it (the popular fish tacos and daily fish specials, which Manley said accounted for nearly 75% of all sales at Pescados China Street, remain on the menu).
The restaurant has also diversified by adding a mixture of small plates (chicken pot pie, char grilled baguette crostini), medium plates (Canadian style poutine, BBQ lettuce wraps), and large plates (seared duck breast, quinoa and black bean cakes). “People who don’t eat seafood have a plethora” of options now, ranging from $8 – $30. The restaurant will also brew its own beer.
Each beer will be named after a street running through Oregon Hill. The first one slated for debut will be the Idlewood IPA, scheduled to premiere in the coming weeks. It’s precisely this local focus that Manley feels was missing during the restaurant’s first incarnation.
The changes in the restaurant’s menu and approach culminated with a new name, EAT Oregon Hill. It’s derived from three large red letters mounted to the wall of Pescados China Street: E-A-T. It was a simple, playful command that Manley thought encapsulated the new restaurant, one he believes “feels more city-like, more Richmond-like…more Oregon Hill-like.”
When the new restaurant opened in September, Manley said it “really unified everyone [in the restaurant] as a team.” While hoping to be a “destination” spot, drawing people from other neighborhoods and nearby counties, Manley said “the neighbors can now afford” regular visits. He has even noticed neighbors come in as many as four times per week, a far cry from mere months ago. He said this is “exactly what we wanted to see.” Despite this, Manley acknowledged a fall lull in business he said is common at this time each year. Recent high-profiles crimes may also have something to do with it.
In the past weeks, a spate of armed robberies around VCU’s campus has underscored a reality of opening a restaurant in the city: crime. “That has an effect on how people feel about coming to the city,” said Manley. Higher food taxes is also a difference he hears complained about “all the time” by customers. However, he feels these attributes can be overcome by both quality food and service. But one of the more compelling developments in the local restaurant scene, he said, is the sheer number of restaurants that have opened. That’s a bit more concerning.
“There’s been so many new places opening up, and the population of Richmond can only support so many restaurants,” said Manley. Despite this, he is confident in EAT Oregon Hill. “It feels like a new beginning.”
When asked if the restaurant will remain a neighborhood fixture in the area, much like nearby Mama Zu’s, Manley responded by saying “let me put it this way.” Nearly $750,000 has been invested into the restaurant and building. “We ain’t going nowhere.”