The Empress to celebrate 1 year anniversary, open patio

April is shaping up to be a great month for The Empress. They’ve just launched a new breakfast and coffee program, it’s the one year anniversary of the restaurant and co-owner Melissa Barlow’s birthday, and they’ll be opening a patio.

April is shaping up to be a great month for The Empress. They’ve just launched a new breakfast and coffee program, it’s the one year anniversary of the restaurant and co-owner Melissa Barlow’s birthday, and they’ll be opening a patio.

They’ve been open for breakfast at 6:30am all along, but this new menu will include not only the fresh, homemade meals they’re known for, but also a new “five minute menu” for those who need to get in and out on their way to work or school. Turns out, there is quite a lot of traffic on Broad Street at that hour. “They deserve breakfast too,” says head chef and co-owner Carly Herring.

There’s no where else in that part of town where you can get a “good, hot, decent meal” that early, says Herring. Patrons will also now find Blanchard’s coffee and a full espresso menu. The Empress is hoping to be an early-morning alternative to Starbucks, where there is coffee, of course, but not really hearty breakfast food. You can even call ahead to The Empress to place an order for a cappuccino or a food item, and have it ready for when you arrive. Bottomless cups of coffee are an option if you stay in and order food. WiFi is free, and there are cozy banquettes and tables with room for laptops. Developing a special for VCU students and dabbling in social media like Foursquare will also help them attract a different crowd.

Breakfast, like everything on their menu, is made from scratch. No pre-packaged muffins here. The spinach, feta, and rosemary scone is a nice savory alternative to the typically sweet morning pastry as is the smoked Gouda and salami scone. The loaded breakfast crepe is Chef Herring’s favorite. “Everyone was telling us how fresh and different the brunch menu was. We approach everything with a totally blank slate. We’re so busy we don’t know what anyone else in town is doing,” added Barlow.

A major new change will be the front patio, hopefully to open by mid-April, which will add 20 new seats to the sidewalk out front. Tables will be cocktail height, to “bring [patrons] up off of Broad Street, to avoid dust and headlights.” Barlow is hoping to also add an outdoor counter for single diners and more casual gatherings. Once the weather warms up, their weekly Tuesday wine tastings and food pairing will be held on the patio. The approval from the city of Richmond, normally notoriously difficult to get, went smoothly, she says. “The neighborhood wanted it,” she mused.

Dinner seems to be the area where The Empress has been most acclaimed, but that’s also where the owners pushed for business first. “We wanted to establish as a full restaurant before people mistook us for a cafe or a wine shop,” Barlow explains. “We’ve experienced dinner to a point where we were as busy as we could be, and then pushed lunch, and now breakfast.” Items like the pun-ny “green eggs and lamb,” made with a green marbled Sage Derby cheese, show they aren’t afraid to take themselves too seriously, a trait that comes across in the couple’s warm smiles and easy-going manner. “If it’s not fun, it’s not worth doing,” chimes in Herring.

Barlow’s 14 years in the business is clear in her precise responses and her evaluation of their recent success. She tells me how the time between Christmas and tax day is typically a dead zone in the restaurant world, since people hoard their money after big gift giving until their refund. In her talks with other Richmond industry folks, several have found this year to be the exception. Barlow tells me that December was their best month of sales since they opened, January broke that record, and

February smashed that.

They also have a small retail section for coffee, wine, and baked goods. One of the few places in town to offer such a large gluten-free menu, their gluten-free bread loves are one of their biggest retail sellers. They also hope to offer rarer cheeses for sale as well. “We take a lot of customer feedback into consideration,” says Herring.

A new spring menu is coming soon, or at least once it actually stays warm. “People are still wanting those hearty, warm meals,” notes Barlow. Right now they operate with just an 8 person staff, including themselves, but will need to expand their kitchen help with the patio expansion.

Dinner starts at 5 pm daily and goes until about 10pm on weekdays and 11pm on Friday/Saturday. If the patio business goes well, they’ll consider staying open for late night desserts on weekends. Catering season is also just beginning. Barlow and Herring create a new menu individually for any catering event using their same all organic, local, and made-from-scratch ingredients. “[We’ve been] catering for five years now, so it’s really easy for us,” says Barlow. As busy as they’ve been, they haven’t had time to plan an anniversary party, but may end up doing something when the patio is up.

Happy hour features $2 off all drinks, which makes Yuengling and Miller Lite just $1, M-F, 4-7pm. They also offer a Sunday brunch happy hour from 2-5pm. Morning people watching, real breakfast foods and coffee, seasonal menus, and a new patio are all good reasons to visit in April. A photography show now hangs by David Byrd. Breakfast and lunch are available until 5pm so you can pick up your midday meal with your morning cup of coffee.

  • 2043 West Broad St
  • 804.592.4000
  • Breakfast and lunch: Mon – Fri 6.30am – 5pm
  • Dinner: Sun – Thu 5 – 10pm. Fri – Sat 5 – 11pm
  • Sunday Brunch: 10am – 5pm
  • error

    Report an error

Holly Gordon

Holly Gordon spends her days working with Richmond’s hearty nonprofit community and her nights singing in a community chorus. She loves her feminist book club, and is always distracted by shiny things.

There are no reader comments. Add yours.