Whether Richmond is built on seven hills is a matter of disagreement, admits 7 Hills Brewing Co. founder and co-owner Ross Renfrow. But the reality of a brewpub named for the city’s Roman-inspired claim may soon be coming to fruition.
The main dining room fronts Dock Street in historic Shockoe Bottom, with a view of the floodwall and the Canal Walk across the way. Although the space was previously Stool Pigeons and Major Willy’s, the new owners are remaking the interior for a signature look, including glass garage doors that open to the patio in nice weather.
Using 8,000 square feet, including a large kitchen and brewing area, 7 Hills is projected to seat 350 in the dining room and bar and 80 on the patio. An awning that will allow the patio to be enclosed or open, depending upon the weather, is also in the works.
As I toured the space with Renfrow, our conversation was interrupted by sounds of construction. The point-of-sale system and the speaker system have been installed and much of the kitchen equipment is already functional. Brewing equipment has begun filtering in to the property, too, including the core system and six fermentation vessels, with an upgraded kettle and mash tun on the way.
“We’ll have some little beers and some big beers,” said Renfrow. “Some of the beers to watch out for will be the Texas Beach ThaiPA, with fresh basil, ginger, Thai chili peppers and lemongrass – it’s going to a great beer. Our 42nd Street Stout will be one of our stout mainstays.” Others include the Seven Hills Saison, Belle Isle Blonde and Brown’s Island English brown, all named for Richmond and the river.
“For the most part, we want to stick with traditional beers,” Renfrow explained when I ask him about 7 Hills beer style philosophy, “I know that in this business there are these special beers – like the Gingerbread Stout, an award-winning blue ribbon beer, is not a traditional beer at all. I think that every now and then it’s cool to get a little creative… Strangeways is doing a great job of being creative. Neil and those guys over there make probably the most creative bunch of beers I’ve seen around.”
Renfrow believes that the traditional style-bearers work better at a full-service restaurant, but they will play with more creative beers, such as the Texas Beach ThaiPA, as well. Taps will include four to five of their year-round beers, three to four seasonals or one-offs, and a couple of guest taps.
Making these traditional and creative beers will be head brewer Jeff Metz, currently at Legend Brewing.
“Legend was one of the first beers I ever had – we grew up with that,” said Renfrow, waxing nostalgic when the discussion turns to Richmond’s veteran brewery. “Legend Brown I still think is one of the best beers in the nation.”
Indeed, 7 Hills is more like Legend than it is like our other local breweries: It will be the first in Richmond’s recent craft beer revival to open with a restaurant. The integration is born of Ross Renfrow’s experience in the restaurant industry, including six years at Bertucci’s and five years as owner of the neighboring Shockoe Bottom restaurant, Fish Bowl, with two more restaurants in the works.
As a restaurant person visiting breweries, Renfrow sees lost revenue. “What was once wine and food is now beer and food, and there’s a whole window of opportunity to make those pairings and keep people in seats longer.”
Besides serving beer in a glass, “We’re going to try to incorporate beer into the menu as much as possible,” he said. “Soups are always the easiest to do that with. But we also want to leave some items that will be nice to pair with beer.”
Planned menu items include beer-battered onion rings, ale mussels, salmon, pork belly, a distinctive black bean burger and an iceberg wedge. The restaurant will also offer Coke products, liquors from top shelf to rail and fine wines.
Though construction at 7 Hills Brewing is rolling along, they’re still waiting for the federal TTB license to brew beer. If that comes in October or November as hoped, they can begin brewing. “Maybe New Year, new beer,” Renfrow speculated. “Ideally spring is the best time to open, but it would be a shame to wait that long. I’ve been working on this project for five years.”
In addition to co-owner Michael Abdelmagid and brewer Jeff Metz, 7 Hills will open with chefs Lisa Seaberry and William E. Renfrow and general manager Shane Mordan.
Richmond was originally named Nonsuch, and 7 Hills Brewing was initially known in the beer community as Haxall – also a tip of the hat to local history. The new brewpub will feature the story of Richmond’s alleged seven hills on the dining room columns, feature Patrick Henry and other Richmond and Virginia arts, and offer traditional beers.
And after five years in planning, the Haxall / 7 Hills history will finally move from concept and business plan to fruition.