When Will Richey bought Revolutionary Soup in downtown Charlottesville five years ago, he started working with local farmers to provide as many of the restaurant’s ingredients as possible — from fresh, flavorful salad greens to the meat in his popular lamb curry soup.
“I have a love and passion for local food and working with local farmers,” Richey said, “I would never be interested in the business if it was just taking frozen food and serving it to people. That’s just not interesting to me.”
So, after buying Revolutionary Soup, Richey immediately began working with local farmers in the Charlottesville area to provide as much of the restaurant’s food as possible.
“As long as we get to meet the farmer and see what they are doing and feel like they’re really trying to be sustainable, we’re happy to work with them,” Richey explained.
Richey’s strong feelings about the importance of the local food movement comes from his interest in the environment, in the flavor of food, and in his community. Richey believes that local, sustainable farming is good for all three of these factors, but he also sees the prices as a road block in the movement’s path because the products become price prohibitive for many families.
“I think that’s the next focus for the local food movement,” Richey said, “and it’s something that we are trying to do at Rev Soup: to make local food an everyday item rather than a high-end, splurge item.”
“We’re a lunch place,” he continued, “where, hopefully, everyday you can afford to get a sandwich or soup– everyday you can afford to eat sustainably raised, local food.”
And, it’s true. Revolutionary Soup’s prices are not all that much higher than you would see at Subway. Yet, Richey’s dedication comes at a price.
“We take a bit of a hit on our margin to make that happen,” he said “and I battle a lot with the farmers that I work with to do the same… if we both take a little hit, the volume will make up the for the loss.”
Richey understands that farmers have frustrations with restaurants charging exorbitant prices for their food, which makes them feel that they should be able to charge more, too.
“But, if we’re all going to insist on making this a high dollar item, we’re going to continue to have a gourmet, luxury item that will be the first thing that people cut from their lifestyle when the economy tanks.”
Richey’s opinions do not just come from his experience as a restaurant owner, but also as a new farmer. He and his wife bought a farm in Esmont in the summer of 2010, and are raising pigs, sheep, rabbits, chickens, guinea hens, ducks, and geese. They also have a one-acre plot on which they hope to grow all of the produce that the restaurant needs.
“For us to have a fully operational, farm to table restaurant at the lower end; at the lunch, sandwich, soup, salad end of things– that’s just a dream of ours,” he said, smiling.
Richey readily admits that the transition to farming hasn’t been completely smooth, but he is obviously excited and passionate about this new phase for himself, for his family, and for his restaurant:
“We love what we do. We love cooking. We’re not just trying to put local food on a plate, charge a bit more money and say it’s delicious. We’re going for delicious.”
A shorter version of this farm profile was featured in The Piedmont Environmental Council’s 2011 Buy Fresh Buy Local guide for the Charlottesville area.