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Scuffletown Garden, the restaurant that opened this summer in the former Strawberry Street Café space in Richmond’s Fan District, is closing.
The restaurant will shut at the end of brunch service Sunday.
Some fans of the previous restaurant were rooting for the new restaurant’s failure. Scuffletown Garden’s co-owner said he has received “close to death threats” since news broke a year ago that the restaurant at 421 N. Strawberry St. had new owners, and they intended to remove the cafe’s signature bathtub salad bar.
But that’s not the reason for the closing, co-owner Derek Salerno said.
“Scuffletown Garden is closing because we did not live up to investors’ expectations,” Salerno said. “With the closure of Strawberry Street Café and unexpected renovation costs, we started with a lot of disadvantages. So after a very stressful few months, we’ve decided to move on to other projects.”
With the closing, the restaurant’s roughly 25 employees will be without jobs; finding those workers future employment is his primary concern, Salerno said.
“We were very lucky to have some lovely and passionate people who we met at Strawberry Street Café who stayed with us till the end,” he said. “I owe all of them everything and all of our success.”
Salerno opened Scuffletown Garden in mid-June after three months of overseeing renovations of the space, which was home to Strawberry Street Café from 1976 to March 2019.
Salerno and his business associate, Octavio Camacho Andrade, bought Strawberry Street Café and its building in December for $1.375 million. The restaurant had been quietly on the market for years but was publicly listed for about two months when the sale was announced.
The last owner of Strawberry Street Café had been rolling out menu changes, additions and small renovations for about four years in an attempt to combat waning business and an increasingly competitive local dining scene.
One co-owner bought out another in 2014 and, the following year, more beer taps, craft brews and a chef-driven burger menu were added; two years later, another menu change and an interior renovation came about; and the next year, the restaurant publicly hit the market.
Following the news of the sale last year, there was an immediate outcry from Richmonders to save the restaurant concept and the bathtub, and many people declared in online postings that they would boycott any restaurant not called Strawberry Street Café — and not featuring a bathtub.
“If there’s one huge takeaway for me in this endeavor over the last year, it is that nostalgia can drive people to be very nasty — and closed to good, new experiences,” Salerno said. “[There were] a lot of people wishing me a secure space in hell — for wanting to open a restaurant that didn’t serve canned sausage gravy.”
Strawberry Street Café was an iconic Richmond restaurant for more than 40 years. A central location in the Fan, an approachable and affordable menu of American fare, and its years in operation meant that most Richmonders had dined there or were at least familiar with the restaurant.
But it was the restaurant’s bathtub salad bar — that is, salad ingredients presented in bowls resting in an antique clawfoot bathtub — that propelled the restaurant to iconic status, especially once the bathtub salad bar was featured on TV’s “Jeopardy!” in the 1990s.
The bathtub salad bar was an accident.
The original owner, Colin Eagles, opened Strawberry Street Café in 1976, and the bathtub salad bar was a last-minute addition. Eagles was nearly out of money and needed a structure to hold the salad bar, according to the Richmond Times-Dispatch archives.
At a friend’s suggestion, he went to the architectural salvage business Caravati’s and bought a used clawfoot tub for $115. He painted the tub and filled it with ice and bowls of produce.
It was a hit. And remained so for decades.
And the new owners considered keeping it and the overall concept when they took over the restaurant and ran it as-is from last December through this past March.
“After many months of listening, soul-searching, and figuring out our next move, we have decided to close Strawberry Street Café and completely rebrand during our planned renovation,” Salerno wrote in a statement before closing Strawberry Street Cafe at the end of March.
When it opened in June, Scuffletown Garden kept the bathtub — repurposed for an outdoor garden.
“Much like the space, chef Adam Campbell’s food feels like a natural, living, breathing thing. His ideas are fresh and botanical. And nearly all his dishes have such an organic ease to them that you can forget how sophisticated and thoughtful they truly are. The refreshing sense of naturality and effortlessness here reminds me of beloved establishments such as Prune in New York City and Chez Panisse in Berkeley, Calif.
“Campbell’s dishes are, for the most part, remarkably polished. They’re so comfortable in their own skin, in fact, you’d never guess the restaurant has been in operation for only a few short months.”
But sometimes, a positive review — and a repurposed bathtub — aren’t enough. Scuffletown Garden’s last day of service will be Sunday. The restaurant will be closed Tuesday for a planned private event and open at 4 p.m. Wednesday through Friday. It will be open from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. for weekend brunch service.
Co-owner Andrade could not be reached for comment Monday.
Electronic cigarette maker Juul likely won’t be able to keep its products on the market as they are currently designed and marketed, former U.S. Food and Drug Administration Commissioner David A. Kessler said Monday in Richmond.
Juul, the California-based maker of nicotine vaping products partly owned by Henrico County-based tobacco giant Altria Group Inc., is “headed for a cliff” with government regulators because of underage use of its products, Kessler said during a public event at Virginia Commonwealth University.
“I don’t see how these products can stay on the market,” said Kessler, who spearheaded the FDA’s first attempt to regulate nicotine as an addictive drug in the 1990s.
Kessler, now chairman of the nonprofit watchdog group Center for Science in the Public Interest, spoke and took questions from about 50 VCU students, faculty members and researchers.
Juul has grown quickly to become the nation’s leading seller of vaping products, prompting Altria, the parent company of top U.S. cigarette maker Philip Morris USA, to invest $12.8 billion last December for a 35% ownership stake in the company.
However, Juul has faced sharp criticism and legal threats for the popularity of its products among teenagers. The company said it has halted sales of flavored versions of its vaping devices that may appeal to underage users. And Thursday, Juul said it will halt sales of its best-selling mint-flavored electronic cigarettes.
Makers of electronic cigarettes also are facing a May 2020 deadline to submit their products for evaluation by the FDA.
Kessler said he doesn’t think Juul is likely to meet FDA standards that require new tobacco products to be “appropriate for the protection of public health,” given the rates of underage use and the presence of additives such as nicotine salts that can mask the product’s harshness and make it more palatable for children to start.
The FDA has to weigh the potential benefits of adults switching from conventional cigarettes to vaping products against the negative outcome of teenagers starting nicotine use, Kessler said.
“For every one adult that quits, 80 kids start,” Kessler said. “Are you willing to have the next generation become addicted?”
A longtime critic and adversary of the tobacco industry, Kessler said he nevertheless has held out hope that less dangerous nicotine products could be developed. “I don’t think it is going to happen in the current environment,” he said.
“The industry blew it,” he said. “It had a perfect opportunity to help figure out how to get to a safer alternative and blew it with this explosion in youth use.”
In an interview before the event, Kessler withheld judgment on the iQOS device, a “heat not burn” alternative to conventional cigarettes now being sold in the U.S. by Altria.
“I think we need more data” to reach conclusions about iQOS, Kessler said. He said it is a “fair argument” that the controversy around Juul “has made it more complicated for any alternative product to survive.”
The iQOS device was first introduced in overseas markets in 2014 by Philip Morris International Inc., a former Altria subsidiary that was spun off in 2008. Philip Morris International says it has 12 million iQOS users globally and about 8.8 million smokers have switched to the product, which is available in 51 international markets.
In late April, the FDA approved the introduction of iQOS in the U.S., where Altria has the rights to sell the product under an agreement with Philip Morris International.
Altria first introduced iQOS in this country in the Atlanta market in September. It expects to open a dedicated store in Carytown this month.
Kessler also spoke at length about his service as FDA commissioner from 1990 to 1997. In 1996, the agency first asserted its authority to regulate tobacco products.
Kessler and a team of FDA scientists and investigators interviewed tobacco industry whistleblowers and assembled a trove of industry documents and patents showing that nicotine’s addictiveness was well-known within the industry long before tobacco company executives admitted it.
The tobacco industry sued to stop the FDA’s attempt to place broad restrictions on the advertising and sale of tobacco products, setting off a legal battle that culminated when the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 2000 that the FDA had exceeded its authority and only Congress could grant the agency oversight of tobacco products.
While the initial effort failed, Kessler said the agency’s work helped shift public opinion. In June 2009, Congress passed the Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act, for the first time giving the FDA power to regulate tobacco products.
Kessler’s talk at VCU was presented by the school’s Center for the Study of Tobacco Products and the Department of Psychology in the College of Humanities and Sciences.
Monday was a surprisingly good day for staring at the sun.
For 5½ hours, the planet Mercury passed directly between the Earth and the sun — a rare “transit” that last occurred in 2016 and won’t be seen again locally until May 7, 2049.
Through the eyepiece of a safely-filtered telescope, the scorched, lifeless planet looked like a faint pinprick of darkness against a looming orange orb.
On Monday, volunteers from the Richmond Astronomical Society aimed five telescopes at the sun in front of the Science Museum of Virginia, drawing in a steady stream of school groups, families and passers-by.
Some were curious about the unlikely gathering of equipment and people, while others like Christina Johnson of Richmond made a point to take her children out for a real-world science lesson.
“It makes it interesting for them, makes it applicable,” Johnson said.
Everything was in perfect alignment for a time, including the weather over Virginia.
High, thin cirrus clouds made for a hazy view during the morning, but conditions turned excellent at midday as the sky cleared out.
“This is great,” Shelli Hayes exclaimed after leaning up from a pair of telescopes. “I didn’t realize how big the sun was.”
Even if you knew what to look for on Monday, it could still take a few seconds to focus in on the speck that was Mercury.
Orienting our place within the solar system was exactly the point.
“You read about these things in textbooks,” said Jim Browder, president of the Richmond Astronomical Society. “What’s special is when you get out into the field and see something for your own eyes.”
Because Mercury is the closest planet to the sun and has a small size — its diameter of 3,032 miles is slightly larger than the continental United States — it’s challenging to spot in the night sky compared with larger, more distant worlds.
Mercury can briefly appear above the horizon right after sunset or just before sunrise, but it lacks the prominence and brilliance of its planetary neighbor, Venus.
On Friday evening, the group will hold another “sky-watch” event at the Science Museum. Saturn and its dazzlingly tilted rings will be the main attraction, and Jupiter also will be visible right after sundown.
Mercury makes a lap around the sun every 88 days, or about four times per Earth year, but the right alignment for a transit happens only about 13 times per century, according to NASA.
That’s because the plane of Mercury’s orbit is tilted relative to Earth’s orbit. Most of the time, it appears to pass either above or below the sun.
The next transits, in November 2032 and November 2039, will be visible from much of Africa, Asia and Europe, but not North America, which will be facing away from the sun at night. That means local sky-watchers will have to wait for the following opportunity in 2049.
The only other planet between the Earth and the sun is Venus, but its transits are much rarer. Venus last crossed the face of the sun in June 2012 and won’t do so again until December 2117.
Richmond’s mild temperatures are a far cry from both the hot and cold extremes of Mercury.
Without an atmosphere like ours, daytime highs hit 800 degrees Fahrenheit, while lows plunge to 280 below, according to Justin Bartel, astronomer at the Science Museum of Virginia.
Scientists recently found that frozen ice exists in the permanently shadowed craters near its poles. A joint European-Japanese satellite called BepiColombo will shed more light on the inner workings of Mercury when it arrives there in 2025.
Searching for a planet in a sunbeam is mainly an educational exercise these days, but it was once a milestone endeavor. In the 17th and 18th centuries, astronomers first calculated transits and used them to refine measurements of the solar system.
Today’s scientists can look deeper into the universe. In the past 30 years, thousands of planets in distant solar systems have been detected by measuring the dips in brightness caused by their passage across other stars.
Three decades from now, when the sun and Mercury next meet up in the sky over Virginia, some of the children who peered into telescopes this week could be making their own discoveries.
“I never get tired of any of these astronomical events,” Browder said. “I enjoy sharing the experience with other people.”
James Wallace Yarbrough expected the letter to come.
It arrived after his Feb. 7 birthday in 1944, midway through his senior year at Washington-Henry High School in Hanover County. Drafted into the U.S. Army as Allied troops continued fighting in what became the deadliest conflict in history, World War II, Yarbrough put his education on hold.
“I didn’t do anything anybody else wouldn’t have done,” he said.
Yarbrough served in the Army until July 1946. Years later, he started a family and made a career at Philip Morris. Meanwhile, his schooling sat on the sideline.
On Monday, more than 75 years after he was initially set to receive it, Yarbrough got his high school diploma during a ceremony in the cafeteria of the no-longer-familiar school, which has since been transformed into serving students only through fifth grade.
Time and life have both passed, but on this Veterans Day, Yarbrough’s dream became reality.
“It’s quite an honor,” the 93-year-old said. “I never expected such an occasion.”
The scene happened after Andrew Corbin, Yarbrough’s 27-year-old grandson, planted the seed with his family that his grandfather should get his diploma.
“He’s never been one to really speak to what he did and he deserves the recognition,” said Corbin, who, inspired by Yarbrough, served with the Marines.
A Virginia Department of Education program made this possible.
The program, which awards honorary high school diplomas to veterans who left school to serve in World War II, the Korean War and the Vietnam War, has been in place since 2001. More than 2,000 Virginia veterans have received the honorary degrees, according to the state.
The family contacted Hanover County Public Schools, which has recent experience with the diplomas: Navy veteran Harold Flippo, who left Lee-Davis High School to serve, received one last year.
The work culminated Monday in an hourlong Veterans Day ceremony at Washington-Henry Elementary, which was founded in 1778 as a private boarding school and became a public school in the early 1900s. Washington-Henry became an elementary school in 1958 when Lee-Davis High opened.
More than a dozen other veterans from all five branches of the military attended the program, which included the playing of the five military songs.
“These men and women have been called to be something bigger than themselves,” said Washington-Henry principal Lisa Thompson. “They are ordinary people, just like us, who have done extraordinary things.”
Fourth- and fifth-grade students at the school wrote letters to the veterans and hand-delivered them as part of the ceremony. One student, Reece Gilhooly, wrote her letter directly to Yarbrough.
“It is cool and brave that you went to war. I would not be able to do that,” she wrote. “Thank you for serving the United States. You made this world a better place and I love that.”
Reece and her peers watched as Yarbrough rose from his seat and walked in front of the stage to accept his diploma, an award decades in the making. Thompson and Hanover schools Superintendent Michael Gill presented him with the degree before Yarbrough, a man of few words, made his way back to his seat.
“[He is] the salt of the earth,” Thompson said.