Neighborhood Success | Short Orders Blog
Pennsylvania native Kendra Feather came to Virginia for college in the 90s and has never looked back. Today, she owns three charming and thriving neighborhood restaurants, Garnett’s Café in the Fan, The Roosevelt in Church Hill and Laura Lee’s on the South Side. Feather sold its top spot, popular vegetarian joint, Ipanema Café, in 2020 – and was also one of the founding partners of WPA Bakery.
We caught up with Feather and her husband and business partner, John Murden, to discuss how things have changed for the couple — and the Richmond dining scene — over the past four decades since Style started posting reviews. , news and in- depth profiles.
As you would expect, this is yet another story of an industry profoundly altered by technology, rapidly changing cultural trends, and different generational trends and habits.
Kendra’s Feather: It’s ridiculous to say now, but I wanted to be a writer for Rolling Stone. I was a journalism student at VCU and did a three-year internship at Sony Music. I’ve worked for Epic and Columbia Records, as well as some smaller record labels. At the time of graduation, I didn’t end up being hired by the company I worked for. But through it all, I waited for tables.
When I opened Ipanema Café  there was no social media – we just opened our doors and waited for someone to come by. It was word of mouth and food reviews, which I think carried a lot more weight back then. Get a food review in the local paper? It would freak you out for a few weeks.
Restaurant reviews were more crucial without social media. It was the three main ones: the Times Dispatch, the Style and the Richmond Magazine. And there were the main popular restaurants like Mamma Zu’s, Millie’s, Helen’s. People were waiting two, two and a half hours to get a table at these places. There just weren’t as many places to go, it was a different environment than it is now. Back then, we could get away with a lot of things. When I opened Ipanema, we had a plywood bar! And no one cared about it. Now you are supposed to fully open polite.
John Murde: It was a rougher, dirtier, crustier place. The Grace Street Context [location of Ipanema Café] was different. There was a strip club, a theater. It was just different.
KF: Grace Street was not a desirable place at the time. But it was so much fun going to rock shows – it wasn’t upscale at all. Downtown VCU is very different than it was back then. The thing with restaurants now is: is it Instagrammable? People will go to a restaurant because they saw a piece of neon or a nice wallpaper.
JM: We’ll put a picture of the dessert on Garnett’s Instagram and we’ll have people within the hour saying, “I saw that cake.”
KF: It’s a great tool, and luckily John has always been ahead of his time with technical stuff. It helped me modernize my Gmail account. He was always one of the first to adopt everything. In the beginning, between the two of us, we could understand social media and how it works…now that we are older we have staff who are digital native; they grew up with it.
by Garnett  open to the age of blogs and bloggers. My brother was living here at the time and we had just opened and we were standing there and he looks at me and says, “Oh wait. We forgot to tell anyone we were going to open. We didn’t have laptops, so we had to run and log into a physical computer and post the news on Facebook. The RVA News blog came to lunch and boom! All the bloggers have passed. Many of these blogs don’t really exist anymore.
The Roosevelt  caught the wave of Southern cuisine, and for some reason at the time, Richmond as a food destination just hit. Church Hill was booming as a neighborhood and we happened to be the restaurant that opened there. We were also doing a strictly Virginia wine list at the time, so that’s what got us into the magazines, that list made us a little bit different. When we opened The Roosevelt, we were in the right place at the right time. Suddenly, people were interested in Richmond in a way that didn’t involve the Confederacy.
With Laura Lee  it kind of moved around the neighborhood and opened up, it didn’t really catch a wave.
JM: The common point was that for each place, we aimed to open a neighborhood spot. They all hit in their own way. And today, the culture of every place is great – we don’t have the screaming chef thing. I was a line cook at the time, so I saw chefs screaming. That was one of the conversations we had when we really got into this question, “How can we have a good, sustainable culture?” “I think that’s one of the overall changes we’ve seen [in the scene].
KF: I recently posted something on Instagram asking people for podcasts and book suggestions on best management practices. I got some interesting responses. Some people were like “Why?” and others said, “Here’s a list,” and still others said, “You don’t need that shit.” I think it’s interesting. My belief is that I’m as flawed as anyone, and I’m self-taught, so I try to find information out there and read up on stuff. I recently read an article on “How do you as a GenX boss meet the needs of Gen Y employees?” I have to remember that millennials were raised with access to social media from an early age – it affects you and your background, and what the world was like around you growing up. It is sometimes difficult to take all this into consideration. You have to stop and say, “Oh, maybe they didn’t grow up believing that thing to be true.
JM: I have employees who are 20 years old. The last six years of their lives have been Trump and COVID. It’s tough man.
KF: I discovered that millennials like to collaborate, so it’s important to find a way for everyone to have a say, but also to never let go of the helm. I try to have a little patience and let people make small mistakes, but no damaging mistakes. It’s delicate.
JM:As for more restaurants? We have a 9 year old and three places to run, so we are busy. But Kendra’s brain is still thinking, “Oh maybe this restaurant would work here.” She invents them, whether we end up opening them or not.
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