The Daily: Expanding RVA’s food consciousness

Organic, GMO-free, sustainable, locally sourced are the buzziest of buzzwords in the food industry these days, but The Daily’s mission isn’t some hippy-dippy health food fad.

  • Who: Ted Wallof and partners Michelle Williams and Jared Golden.
  • What: A restaurant looking to make people think more about their food.
  • Where: 2934 W. Cary Street in Carytown.
  • When: Opened July 2013.
  • Dishes: Signature Veggie Burger with pinto beans, brown rice, nuts, seeds ($7.95); Curried Lentil Bowl with quinoa, sweet potatoes, zucchini, spinach, tamarind Sambal sauce, mint chutney ($12.95); Angus Fillet with truffle whipped potatoes, broccolini, fig-balsamic Demi-glace ($23.95).

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Food consciousness is a phrase Ted Wallof uses a lot. For good reason.

“I think as health care costs are rising and as obesity has become epidemic, and cancer and heart disease have all become the leading causes of death, we have to look at our food and say: What are we doing wrong?” said Wallof, one-third of the ownership behind The Daily in Carytown.

“So you have to start becoming conscious of what we’re eating, how it affects our body, how it affects our planet, how it affects our community, and how it affects the animal.”

Organic, GMO-free, sustainable, locally sourced are the buzziest of buzzwords in the food industry these days. The Daily’s mission to move Richmonders down a path of eating well could easily be seen as another restaurant catering to some hippy-dippy health food fad.

But The Daily isn’t about fads. It’s about opening minds.

“There’s magic in that”

You might not recognize Wallof–the tall, friendly, svelte man who wears a thin goatee–but you’ll recognize his restaurants. He’s a partner in the Richmond Restaurant Group, along with Michelle Williams and Jared Golden. The group formed in 1995 when The Hard Shell opened in Carytown. Europa followed in 1998, then The Hill Cafe (2001), Water Coaster Kitchen (2008), and Pearl (2013), among others. All told, Wallof and Co. own seven restaurants in the region.

“I was here for the first eight years, and then I decided to become a silent partner,” Wallof said. “Initially, running restaurants was a lot of fun. I loved it. And then it got to be not as much fun…it was a lot of fun until it wasn’t.”

As his interest in day-to-day restaurant operations waned, “I also was gravitating toward a more healthy lifestyle direction,” he said. “I tend to gravitate towards fitness, nutrition, and adventure.

Adventure soon called. Wallof spent the next decade in New York and California working for Xterra, an off-road triathlon organization that host events all over the world.

Wallof and his family spent most of their time in Manhattan Beach in Los Angeles County. While there, words like local, sustainable, and organic were omnipresent.

“It’s so prevalent there that you kind of expect it,” he said. It made him consider, really consider for the first time, what repercussions his food choices had on his body.

“As my consciousness grew, my taste evolved,” he said. “It went to ‘I want organic’ to ‘I want grass-fed beef’ to ‘I want organic free-range chicken.'”

His tastes kept evolving. After learning about the growing link between meat consumption to cancer and heart disease (both of which run in his family), Wallof removed beef and chicken all together, adopting more of a plant-based diet. “It continued to the point to giving up fish and dairy.” He now eats a vegan diet exclusively.

In California, there were no shortage of restaurants that offered plant-based, organic, sustainable offerings–like San Francisco’s Cafe Gratitude, which devotes their entire menu to 100% plant-based items.

“There’s something here,” Wallof thought. He realized that healthy eating, and the California restaurants that encouraged healthy eating, wasn’t some fad, but the future. “You can go to the big cities [like Los Angeles, San Francisco] and see what’s happening and see what’s going to work and what’s eventually going to come to smaller towns,” he said. Sooner or later, what was happening in California would reach Richmond.

For ten years, Wallof was a continual “bug in the ear” to his partners: We should be the ones to bring this to Richmond.

In 2011, the phone number of partner Jared Golden appeared on Wallof’s phone. “He called me up and said, ‘We’ve got a great location in Carytown we’re considering. Are you still interested?'”

At that time, Wallof’s family lived mere blocks from the beach. Each morning Wallof could see just how placid the Pacific was from the comfort of his bed. He enjoyed 70-degree weather in November.

But helping Richmond forge a more conscious way to eat was more important than the creature comforts in California. “This, for me, was a very purpose-driven project,” Wallof said. “I’ve taken on as my own personal mission…to create, live, and inspire a happy, healthy, active, conscious, and compassionate life.”

He’d have no greater way to do that in Richmond than with a restaurant. “And anytime you can live your purpose in your day-to-day life and in your work, there’s magic in that,” he said.

Back in Richmond, Jared Golden was waiting for an answer. “I said ‘yes’ and changed my life and moved back to Richmond.”

Progress, not perfection

The restaurant that existed in Wallof’s mind was a far cry from what’s now at 2934 W. Cary Street. Wallof was so committed to his cause, he envisioned a restaurant with no soda machines,1 used no sugar in its dishes,2 and had no fryer.3

“I could have opened a plant-based cafe and attracted a very small niche, but put out a great thing,” Wallof said. “And eventually maybe the meat eater would have stumbled in here.” But how much good would that do?

“Rather than being exclusive…I wanted to be inclusive,” Wallof said. “We’re really striving to cater to a growing market of people that are questioning their food for a myriad of reasons.” So The Daily has a myriad of options.

Vegetarians, vegans, and those who eat gluten-free have ample choices for lunch and dinner. But so do meat eaters. While Wallof has health and ethical concerns about consuming meat, the restaurant uses Angus beef from Harris Ranch, which raises, feeds, and slaughters its own cattle, avoiding a supplier that relies on factory-farmed animals.

“I have some inner conflict with that,” Wallof said about The Daily, and his other restaurants, offering meat. “I don’t want to be a hypocrite about promoting a plant-based diet while, simultaneously, I’m a partner in seven restaurants that are far from being plant-based.”

“Rather than cut off my nose to spite my face, or hold any judgement against those that are eating meat, I don’t,” he said. “I was there too.”

Instead of foisting his current beliefs on others through a niche restaurant, Wallof sincerely believes that The Daily, by offering vegan and meat menu items, stands a better chance of broadening the food consciousness of Richmond. Something that probably wouldn’t be done, or at least not done as effectively, if he opened the restaurant as it originally appeared in his head.

“I think if you tell somebody to go vegan, they’re going to slam the door. And [The Daily] is not a “slam the door” technique. This is more of a ‘foot in the door’ technique,” he said.

Even if a meat eater comes in hankering for a hamburger, fish, or crab cakes, he or she will inevitably see plant-based items on the menu, and see people around them eating appetizing plant-based meals. “I think [we are] exposing a plant-based diet to a lot of people that would not even consider it.”

“It’s just about exposure to the masses. Its [about] progress and not perfection.”

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For eight months, those looking at The Daily’s exterior while it was being built probably saw no progress. “We hit every possible hiccup imaginable,” he said. Since the building had never been a restaurant in its history, it took eight months just to dig out the basement and retrofit it with the pipes needed to sustain The Daily’s size.

Then there were the litany of delays that surprised the partners, even after 18 years of restaurant ownership: delayed permits, issues with outside manholes, things piled up. It took roughly two years for the restaurant to open.

There were issues even after the Daily opened in July 2013. “A month after opening we had somebody drive their car through our very expensive floor-to-ceiling glass doors,” Wallof said. “We were humbled on this project more than any other.”

While far from a perfect beginning, The Daily has progressed nicely for the owners. “It’s exceeded our expectation,” Wallof said. “We appeal to the people that may have no concern whatsoever with our philosophy, but they come in because it’s kind of a hip, cool place that looks different,” he said. The earth tones, bamboo, and even the living moss wall make The Daily stand out. “It feels a little bit like Los Angeles or Miami.”

In addition to menu favorites like the Curried Lentil Bowl ($12.95), Veggie Tacos ($13.95), Angus Filet ($23.95), The Daily also has Kombucha on tap, which is used for the Watermelon Kombucha Martini ($8).

Beginning this week, The Daily opens for breakfast (PDF) at 7:00 AM. “There’ll be more vegetarian/vegan options for breakfast, which is just a rarity in Richmond,” Wallof said.

While he enjoys The Daily serving like-minded people, he also enjoys exposing people to the restaurant’s mission. “What’s also very fulfilling to me is watching people that come in that may not have any interest in getting healthy, all of the sudden be exposed to it,” Wallof said. “The seed has been planted and maybe it will germinate years from now, or maybe this weekend. Either way it’s exposure.”

His personal evolution toward healthy eating helped make The Daily, a restaurant that he wants to make Richmond more healthy. “I really want to inspire a healthy life,” he said. But that evolution doesn’t stop with The Daily in its current form. The restaurant must also keep evolving.

“I think The Daily is exactly what it’s supposed to be,” he said. “I think it, like all of us, will continue to evolve and hopefully…it will continue to get healthier,” Wallof said.

The Daily is located at 2934 W. Cary Street in Carytown.

  1. Because of the large amount of sugar and high-fructose corn syrup. 
  2. Because of its possibly toxic effects
  3. Because it’s fried food, people! 
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Nathan Cushing

Nathan Cushing is a writer, journalist, and RVANews Editor.

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