New start-up’s mission: Doing good all the time

Slated to open this fall, the Urban Farmhouse Market and Café hopes to use local, organic foods as a vehicle for changing Richmond.

The recession is changing the way businesses are operating these days. Many are doing everything they can to survive the current economy. As a result, “doing good” may not be on the minds of some businesses as they seek to improve their bottom lines. But, for a few businesses, being directly involved in social change is the only way they want to go and grow.

That is how one start-up sees it as they go about opening their doors for the first time this fall. Kathleen Richardson, a marketing professional who has worked for Starbucks and Panera Bread, returned to her hometown of Richmond to open the Urban Farmhouse Market and Café with hopes to enrich the community by preparing and delivering organic foods.

“Going about the daily operation of our business and doing good will be one in the same for the Urban Farmhouse,” comments Richardson.

With the fast food chains covering the landscape on city streets, Urban Farmhouse, located in historic Shockoe Slip, will provide healthier food options in a casual setting.

For this new start-up, its organic menu and fast service is only the starting point for how it plans to make social change happen in the greater Richmond community.

With the vast number of overweight Americans and the widespread health issues that are troubling our society, the Urban Farmhouse will aim to change its customer’s views on food. With great excitement Richardson describes how her company’s educational events will provoke social change in the way citizens of Richmond buy their food and how they eat, hopefully creating a model for a healthier lifestyle. Guest speakers will address a wide variety of topics on why eating and buying local organic foods is not only healthy, but also beneficial to the economy.

Richardson has worked on the start-up for nearly two years after spending her entire career in the food industry. She once worried that the Urban Farmhouse would not open with the socially conscious mission she planned. Several banks turned her down repeatedly as she searched for funding opportunities, but she kept believing her concept could work. Shortly thereafter she was introduced to French Consulting who has been responsible for investing in many historic real estate projects in Richmond. Owner Justin French foresaw how his partnership with the Urban Farmhouse would exercise social responsibility as they worked to renovate the café’s location on the corner of East Cary and One Shockoe Plaza (1217 E. Cary Street, to be exact).

Social entrepreneurs like Richardson do not see business opportunities as a way to measure what they can gain, but instead as an opportunity to solve social problems.

“Urban Farmhouse wants to lead by example, showing other businesses that bringing about social change is good for the business community, good for the people of Richmond, and best for the local economy,” notes Richardson.

She is right. If businesses take an interest in community improvement, everybody wins; the local citizens are healthier and more educated on the things that they buy, and businesses will have requests from their consumers for more sustainable products and services that could result in job creation. A public that is healthy, educated, and employed will go a long way to improving the recession.

Through the development of Urban Farmhouse, Richardson has learned that the key to making social change is to find strategic partnerships that are also investing in the local community. The start-up plans to grow slowly in order to foster relationships with the local farmers and suppliers in the Mid-Atlantic region. This will also enable Richardson and her team to measure profits as they add more locations throughout Greater Richmond.

“Buying local and organic foods has increased greatly in the last few years in Richmond, but we hope that it can become more mainstream for all citizens to enjoy.”

Richardson openly admits that the Urban Farmhouse is not only about food; it is about how the café’s brand is able to make a difference in the lives of people that choose to eat there. If you’re a business owner or just an open-minded citizen who applauds the mission the Urban Farmhouse has put forth, Richardson hopes you’ll also ask yourself, “What am I doing to making Richmond a better place?”

Recession or not, there are several causes that deserve attention from talented individuals. Urban Farmhouse says they are trying to make organic foods mainstream, but perhaps what they are really doing is showing how doing good all the time can be the center piece of one’s life and business.

For more on the Urban Farmhouse, stop by their website at

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John ONeill

John O’Neill is an adjunct VCU professor and President of Thinkhaus, a socially conscious graphic design company. He was recently featured as one of Style Weekly’s Top 40 Under 40.

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