The folks behind the Fuzzy Cactus, a new restaurant in Richmond’s North Side, didn’t grow up together; they didn’t grow up in Richmond and none of them set out in the beginning to open a restaurant.
Music — the love for playing it live and being in bands — is what brought them together. It’s what brought them to Richmond and led them to the Fuzzy Cactus, which opened Aug. 16 at 221 Brookland Park Blvd.
The restaurant is owned by married couple Michael Cipollone and Patty Conway, along with co-owner Andrew Schlegel. Cipollone and Conway met at a gig in Cleveland and Conway eventually lured Cipollone to Richmond, where she was living to be in close proximity to her D.C.-based band, which she joined after leaving New York.
In Richmond, Cipollone was working at Hardywood, managing the taproom and booking music, which is how he met Schlegel, a fellow musician, who was working at the Henrico County restaurant Lily Pad once he made his way here from Austin, Texas.
Like many musicians and artists, all had experience working in restaurants to support their music habit. So the three started talking about opening their own spot — somewhere with good food and good drinks where they could host live shows. A place that would be — most importantly — affordable. Not lip service affordable or air quote “affordable” — somewhere a person could get a beer for $3 or a whole dinner for $8.
The all-day menu tops out at $12 and that’s for half a fried chicken, the house specialty. Chicken biscuits, a fried tofu biscuit, nachos, entree salads and “supreme” red beans and rice help fill out the approachable menu where most things are about $8, though snacks and appetizers can be found for less.
Conway called a friend from college, Sam Lappin Sr., to run the kitchen. Lappin drew on his experience cooking for a Brooklyn restaurant, Pies and Thighs, to design the menu.
“I just went to the library and looked up cookbooks. I came across these Texas cowboy cookbooks,” Lappin said, “It was interesting how diverse it could be. Gulf Coast, Southern, Mexican ... a little bit of everything.”
For the cocktails, the group called friend (and fellow musician) Paul Kirk, most recently at Rappahannock, to emphasize affordability.
“Something we wanted to be very conscious of was being affordable,” Conway said.
Cocktails run about $8, but there are cans of the beer on the menu for $3 — and a beer and a shot combo for $7 is a standing offer at Fuzzy Cactus.
The group pitched in to make the 65-seat restaurant space warm and comfortable. It has a rock ’n’ roll vibe, complete with stage and working jukebox — and a fun, retro vibe at the bar.
And live music is a regular feature. “it’s going to be quality over quantity,” Cipollone said.
The restaurant is booking gigs on the weekends, and there will likely be a cover charge when the shows start. Check out fuzzycactusrva.com for the schedule.
Fuzzy Cactus is now open daily, noon to midnight and until 2 a.m. on weekends.