Eight years ago, the 400 block of East Grace Street was lined with vacant buildings and boarded-up storefronts, a sad reminder of a thriving part of Richmond's past, when the area was teeming with retail stores and shoppers looking for boutiques just around the corner from the flagship Miller & Rhoads department store.
Pasture restaurant and its owners were pioneers in the neighborhood, bringing upscale dining, a chef-driven menu and craft cocktails to a part of downtown that few ventured to after dark for any reason, much less dining out.
In fact, Pasture was the first restaurant in a generation to bring dinner service to East Grace Street. Today, that one block is home to five restaurants - and a dozen more have opened in the blocks immediately around the area.
But now its owners - Jason Alley, Michele Jones and Ry Marchant - are ready for their next adventure.
The trio has listed their restaurant at 416 E. Grace St. for sale for an undisclosed price with Nathan Hughes, principal broker with Sperity Real Estate Ventures. The sale includes the 4,000 square foot restaurant space (which currently seats 95) and all of the equipment inside.
"They’ve had a huge impact on the dining scene," Hughes said. "That impact will continue to be felt, not only through whatever iteration of Pasture appears in that space, but in everything else they do and have done.”
The restaurant will stay open during the search for a new owner and the transition.
"It was a really hard decision," Jones said. "[Pasture] helped me make a name for myself. No one knew who I was before Pasture."
Pasture wasn't just a pioneer in a neighborhood of downtown Richmond, it was a pioneer in the Richmond food scene.
Pasture opened the same year as The Roosevelt, The Magpie, Stella's and The Blue Goat - restaurants that were all pivotal in putting Richmond's dining scene on the national culinary map. Within weeks of its opening, Pasture was named one of “50 restaurants that are redefining Southern food.”
But change is a constant in the restaurant industry. Both The Magpie and The Blue Goat are closed and The Roosevelt underwent an ownership change last year.
"This is an opportunity for us to see what's next for us professionally and personally," Alley said.
Pasture came about due to equal parts of Marchant, Jones and Alley.
Marchant has always had a soft part for Grace Street.
"I've always loved that street and that block," he said.
For Marchant, Grace Street was family. His father got his professional start at Miller & Rhoads and he worked his way up to president of the company. Many of Marchant's childhood memories involve the store and downtown Richmond in someway.
So in 2009 when he saw a for sale in the window of the former Montaldo's store - a circa 1923 building that had been vacant for decades - he jumped at the chance to buy it. According to property records, Marchant paid $325,000 for the three story building. Today, it's assessed at $1.89 million.
Marchant learned through a bartender at Six Burner, his former restaurant at 1627 W. Main St. (now Heritage), that Alley and Jones were looking to open a restaurant.
"The idea of buying the building was my idea. The restaurant - Pasture - was all Michele, Jason and Mercedes (Alley, Jason's wife)," Marchant said.
Alley and Jones met when Jones was hired to manage the Portsmouth location of Alley's first Richmond restaurant, Comfort. The two became fast friends.
The second Comfort was short-lived, but it brought Jones back to Richmond and she and Alley would go on to open and close Flora, a Charlottesville location of Pasture, and last year opened Bingo Beer Co., a restaurant, brewery and arcade in Scott's Addition with business partner Jay Bayer. Jones is also now a co-owner of Comfort.
"[Jones] has real acumen and an intuition that is exceptional," Alley said. "She is an invaluable friend, supporter and has a vision that is 100 percent in-line with what I strive for."
With Pasture, Jones and Alley sought to refine what Southern food meant.
"We got to be a part of the revitalization of that neighborhood. We got to be a part of the conversation about what Southern food is. We got to be a part of so many things, but now it's time," Alley said.
Marchant will continue to own the building and focus on his legal career. When Pasture opened, he was an attorney turned occasional substitute judge. Now he's a full time judge with the Richmond Circuit Court.
Alley and Jones have their next act planned.
"We're moving in more of a consulting and restaurants development phase of our career," Alley said. "That's part of the reason we're selling is to spend time to help other people realize their dreams."
First up, they're working with Barrett Worthington and Meghan Charity on the food and beverage portion of Rally, “a new kind of social entertainment venue with an active lifestyle focus," according to a Rally representative.
Rally will focus on pickleball, an international paddle sport which combines elements of tennis, ping pong and badminton. The women behind it are currently searching Richmond near Scott's Addition for a space large enough to accommodate the space for the courts and the food service that will accompany it.
"'Eatertainment' is one of the fastest growing segments of restaurants right now," Alley said. He and Jones "will work hand-and-hand with chef, GM and beverage manager to develop that side of the business. They have the entertainment component covered."
Rally will join a growing list of these types of establishments. In Scott's Addition alone, there's Bingo Beer Co.; Tang & Biscuit Shuffleboard Social Club, which opened in August; River City Roll, a bowling alley with a full-service restaurant that opened in April 2018; and The Circuit, which offers self-serve wine and beer on tap, plus sliders and tacos to its arcade customers that opened in October 2017.
"Michele and I have a combined 70-plus years of experience," Alley said. "This is what we want to do: help people realize their dreams."
In the meantime, Pasture restaurant will remain open - full staff, hours, bar and pimento cheese.