Paige Healy was 9 or 10 years old and taking an art class when students were asked to draw a picture of what they wanted to be when they grew up.
For Healy, it didn’t take much thought.
“I drew myself in a chef jacket and tall chef hat in a kitchen with a pan in my hands,” she said.
Healy started tagging along to work with her dad, Kevin Healy, at his restaurant, later renamed The Boathouse at Sunday Park, before she was tall enough to reach the kitchen’s food prep counters. When she was older and taller, she pitched in with bussing tables and food prep, and later with hostess and bartender duties.
“I was very lucky from a very early age to be able to share that passion with my dad,” she said. “It started just getting into my blood really early on. It’s really something that I have been passionate about since I was a little kid.”
Today, at age 30, Paige Healy is chief creative officer of the restaurant company founded and headed by her father and which has grown to five restaurants — four locations of The Boathouse concept and one Casa del Barco Mexican-themed restaurant in downtown Richmond.
More locations are coming. A second Casa del Barco is scheduled to open in Short Pump Town Center in late December, while a third planned for Chesterfield Towne Center is expected to open in late summer or early fall of 2018 and will be paired with a new concept called Shrimp Shack.
“Early on, the focus of growth was to grow the business at our one location in Sunday Park,” said Kevin Healy, looking back to 1988 when he took over operations of the former Sunday’s Restaurant in the planned Brandermill community in Chesterfield County.
“We accomplished that by adding outdoor decking, and outdoor bar, enclosing a patio and by converting an adjacent waterfront swimming pool into the pavilion area and designing it for large events like weddings and receptions,” Kevin Healy said. In 2006, he rebranded the restaurant as The Boathouse at Sunday Park.
“As the growth and reputation of The Boathouse at Sunday Park expanded, so did opportunities for new locations,” he said.
The company’s flagship waterside restaurant in Brandermill specializes in seafood dishes and is known for its stellar views of Swift Creek Reservoir. Healy opened a second waterside location in 2009 — The Boathouse at Rocketts Landing, settling into a scenic space in the luxury mixed-use development that straddles the Richmond-Henrico County line along the James River.
Most of the company’s expansion has been in the past five years.
Casa del Barco opened in a refurbished Italianate building along Richmond’s Canal Walk in 2013. A third Boathouse restaurant opened in 2015 at Short Pump Town Center, and a fourth opened this past June in City Point in Hopewell.
“I had a very good foundation in restaurant management prior to ownership. It’s a business to me. There’s not a lot of ego involved,” said Healy, whose first job in the restaurant business was as a dishwasher at age 15.
Later, in college at the University of Dubuque in Iowa, he was a student manager at the college cafeteria. After college, he held a succession of jobs — starting at a Richmond restaurant group that operated the area’s Arby’s franchise locations.
“Mr. Ripp hired me out of college,” said Healy, referring to local restaurant titan Richard Ripp, owner of The Restaurant Co., which operates local Arby’s franchises. “At the time, in addition to the Arby’s, they had several restaurants in town. I did that for four years and worked in a number of their restaurants.”
Next was a stint at the now-defunct Chi-Chi’s restaurant chain where he was a regional manager and, after that, he was food and beverage director for a Tidewater area hotel chain.
“I think that one of the things I have done particularly well and we as a group do particularly well is we listen to our guests. If you listen, they will tell you what you need to do,” Kevin Healy said.
His company’s expansion is occurring at a time when Richmond’s restaurant scene is bursting at the seams with dozens of locally operated restaurants offering creative and tasty cuisine.
Longer-running restaurants and more established groups have been the catalysts for the tremendous growth of the past four to five years, said Christopher Staples, director of hospitality for EAT Restaurant Partners, which operates eight area restaurants including Boulevard Burger & Brew, Fat Dragon and Red Salt Chophouse & Sushi.
“We do compete with each other, but we don’t let that draw a line between us,” Staples said. “Instead, we focus on more important things like developing our respective cultures, quality of our product and focusing on the guest experience. The competitor, if anything, makes us better, more capable and aware of what we need to.”
Of Healy, Staples said, “He’s a sharp guy and has a vision. You can’t do what he has done without a clear vision.”
Healy returned the praise to EAT Restaurant Partners and to the Richmond Restaurant Group, a company founded in 1995 by Michelle Williams, Jared Golden and Ted Wallof that now owns seven restaurants including The Daily, The Hard Shell and The Hill Cafe.
Healy said he admires those two restaurant groups’ “ability and confidence when thinking outside their everyday comfort zone and adding unique concepts to their lineup of restaurants.”
In the competition for taste buds, the Healys are holding their own.
Earlier this year, Kevin Healy rebranded his company, renaming it HOUSEpitality Family.
“It has many layers of meaning to it,” Kevin Healy said.
“The word ‘house’ is obviously part of The Boathouse, and less obvious Casa del Barco translated is ‘house of the boat.’ Hospitality is what we are all about. And yes we are a family-run business,” he said.
In addition to daughter Paige, a son, Colin Healy, and son-in-law Gregorio Spinzo (Paige’s husband) are active in the business.
With the new brand came putting down on paper the values that had been part of the company.
“If you are somebody who appreciates integrity, innovation, empowerment and knowledge — those are our four values — you are going to be who feels like at the end of the day we are adding to their cup rather than taking away,” Paige Healy said.
Healy opened his first restaurant with a small business loan.
This past summer, Transact Capital Partners, a Henrico-based business brokerage and mergers and acquisitions advisory firm, assisted HOUSEpitality Family with securing a $6.1 million loan with Park Sterling Bank to finance the new Casa Del Barco location at Short Pump as well as to restructure its long-term debt.
The company has approximately 350 employees. Food service traditionally has a lot of employee turnover, but HOUSEpitality Family has a plan to keep more on board. About a year ago, the company developed an in-house training program open to employees who want to move up and assume more responsibility.
“We are seeing often potential inside them that maybe they don’t see. And when you give them the road map and opportunity to succeed, I think that’s one of the keys to our low turnover,” Kevin Healy said.
At a training class last week, employees from across the company gathered at The Boathouse at Sunday Park for an hourlong presentation by Kevin Healy and Colin Healy, a local musician who handles some of the company’s accounting operations, on the economics of running a restaurant.
The employees each were given 100 pennies and asked to parse out the coins based on percentages of the company’s cost of sales, labor, other expenses and profit.
“At this stage in our development, we are almost spending more pennies than we make,” Healy said. “We’re trying to grow this business and create opportunities because I think we are good at it. We have a good team and good support.”
Even little things such as how many bar towels are used a week and whether a bottle of sanitizer is thrown out before it’s completely empty affects the bottom line, Healy said.
Candy Smith is one employee who is in it for the long run.
She started with the company in 1995 as a lunchtime server, and later took on administrative duties in payroll and scheduling. After the third restaurant opened, she became director of operations. She recently was named chief operating officer.
“We all have the same passion — to continue with the growth, and we all have a passion of doing the right thing — providing excellent customer service,” Smith said.
For Paige Healy, the title of chief creative officer also is new.
She took time off from the restaurant business to earn a college degree. She rejoined the company, excited about the changes her father was making.
“There is all this cool stuff going on that my dad has created with the growth,” Paige Healy said.
About four years ago, she attended a culinary program in Southern Italy and brought those skills to the business as a cuisine developer, working with chefs to create new menu items.
“Eating local, eating fresh, eating what’s minutes or hours off the vine versus days or weeks,” she said.
“The whole mission of our restaurant is to celebrate life one bite at a time. Come celebrate your Mother’s Day, your Thanksgiving, your birthdays, your graduations, your weddings ... and your every day. That’s a big piece of who we are,” she said.