The family bond behind RVA’s Heritage
Three family members have created an exciting restaurant in The Fan built around quality, seasonality, and some of the best cocktails you’ll ever taste.
Pictured above: Emilia Sparatta, Joe Sparatta, and Mattias Hägglund
- Who: Emilia Sparatta, Joe Sparatta, and Mattias Hägglund,
- What: A new restaurant that mixes the talents of an accomplished chef, noted bartender, and experienced manager
- When: Opened in October, 2012
- Where: 1627 W. Main Street
- Why: To provide excellent food at an affordable price, featuring small, medium, and large dinner plates, as well as Sunday brunch
- Dishes: Dinner plates include: bourbon barrel smoked pork belly, Rappahannock River oysters gratin, and mahi mahi, along with desserts like vanilla bean cheesecake and chocolate malt panna cotta. Cocktails include: Stark Words (buffalo trace bourbon, local apple cider, lemon, spice) and European Union (meukow cognac, cocchi sweet vermouth, green chartreuse), and more.
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If there’s such a thing as a triple threat in the restaurant world, Heritage is certainly it: a stellar and delectable menu, a mixologist helming a modern bar, and the whole thing anchored by an attentive dining room presence. That’s precisely what chef Joe Sparatta, bartender Mattias Hägglund, and manager Emilia Sparatta are doing with one of RVA’s newest restaurants. But there’s another reason, besides quality, that links the trio: they’re family.
“The family business has been around for centuries,” said Heritage co-owner, Emilia Sparatta, wife of chef Joe Sparatta and sister to Hägglund. “We understand each other more readily,” she said about the dynamic that helps them run the nearly 70-seat restaurant. “There’s trust there.”
Emilia Sparatta attended the Culinary Institute of America in New York from 2001-2003 where she trained to become a chef. As part of that program, she spent an externship at The Ryland Inn in New Jersey, a restaurant consistently lauded by The New York Times. While she started as a cook, Sparatta later grew interested in the aspects of running a restaurant beyond the kitchen. She went on to become the restaurant’s assistant maitre d’ and then wine director. “I enjoy seeing all the pieces come together,” she said. “I’m more of a ‘big picture’ person.” While broadening her restaurant knowledge, The Ryland Inn proved advantageous to Sparatta in another way: it’s where she met her husband.
In 2010, the Sparattas moved to Richmond, where Emilia’s family lived. Paul Keevil, a family friend and owner of LuLu’s restaurant, asked the newly-arrived couple to help him develop his Shockoe restaurant. After that, the Sparattas helped Comfort chef Jason Alley develop his new downtown restaurant, Pasture. While helping prominent restaurateurs like Keevil and Alley gave the couple valuable experience, the Sparattas were on the lookout for a location that they could make their own. Then they met Ry Marchant.
Marchant, who at the time owned Six Burner, was interested in handing his restaurant over. The Sparattas visited the location and realized it would fit their existing restaurant concept, so they made a deal. “This was a great fit for us,” Sparatta said. Six Burner closed in September 2012. With permits already in place, only minor renovations and cleaning needed to revamp the restaurant (“Come in, polish, and go,”). Heritage opened in October.
Sparatta said the purpose of the restaurant is “to provide an excellent-quality product at affordable, everyday prices.” Medium-sized dinner plates range from $6 – $9,1 with large plates not exceeding $19. Sparatta said popular plates include the flounder, half chicken, pork belly, and pimento croquettes. She said while the menu is seasonally-minded, “We want people to have favorites,” adding that the restaurant will not remove or add items merely for the sake of change. “The consistency is very important.”
Not only does a pair of Sparattas ensure that customers are pleased by what’s on their plates and their overall dining experience, but Mattias Hägglund has crafted a unique bar menu to follow suit.
In addition to bartending at Penny Lane and Bistro 27, Hägglund also created and managed the beverage program at New Jersey restaurant, elements (where both Sparattas also worked). He’s been featured in beverage publications as well as CNN’s food website, Eatocracy. Heritage will serve local beers like Legend and Hardywood Park on tap, and Hägglund has created a bar menu with a unique cocktail component that’s proved more popular than the owners expected.
“Cocktail sales are higher than we thought they would be,” Sparatta said. Cocktails, she added, are becoming a resurgent attribute in the American bar scene, something that Richmonders seem to be happily embracing.2 Something else RVA embraces is brunch.
“People don’t brunch in other towns like they do here,” Sparatta said. “It’s almost ritual here.” That’s not a complaint by any means, as Heritage is in the brunch business, but cracking into the brunch scene can be rough going for a new restaurant. Sparatta said that Heritage’s Sunday brunch service “has been getting more and more successful” since the restaurant opened. “We want to be a part of people’s habit,” she said, whether that includes brunch, dinner, or (ideally) both.
Only two months into the restaurant’s life, the owners are quite happy with the booming business. “It’s been really positive. We’ve had a great response from all different kinds of people,” Sparatta said. Although there are no immediate plans for lunch service, Sparatta said that Heritage will continue its “guest chef” dinners, similar to the one organized around Hurricane Sandy relief in November, which featured Tim Bereika of Secco, Owen Lane of Magpie, and Lee Gregory of The Roosevelt, among others. One of the reasons why Heritage will continue to host notable chefs from around town is that chefs at different restaurants typically don’t feel like competitors, but a collective ambassadorship for RVA’s dining scene.
“Richmond is a great community of chefs,” Sparatta said. “We all want the city to be taken more seriously…nationally and regionally.”
- Tuesday – Thursday • 5:00 – 10:00 PM
- Friday and Saturday &bull 5:00 – 11:00 PM
- Sunday • 10:30 AM – 3:30 PM
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- The Bacon, Egg, and Cheese medium plate was recently featured as an RVANews favorite. ↩
- See my interview with Bobby Kruger and the owners of Saison for more on this. ↩
photo courtesy of Heritage/Speakeasy Dining
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