Above: Outside The Richmond in San Francisco; photo courtesy of Andrew D from Yelp
John Owyang and wife Thu-Ha, co-owners of The Richmond, have offered a revolutionary dining experience for the last 16 years. As a San Fran native, Owyang’s no stranger to economic roller coasters. From the 2002 dot-com boom to the ‘08 recession and now the pandemic, The Richmond’s still standing strong.
Owyang’s used to alternative thinking, proven by his signing onto The Richmond’s building back in 2004. He reflects on its construction days, noting “We took over a project no one else wanted…The health department closed the previous place down so we opened it up…drywall, electrical…We didn’t want to do it at first, [but] thought it was the only chance we would have at that time.”
Owyang was driven. Having exhausted jobs in the restaurant business, he knew that “the only way to run a kitchen and be a chef was to hire myself.” 16 years later, The Richmond comes full circle as Owyang continues building during the pandemic. The restaurant’s currently getting new paint and flooring as a way to utilize this downturn.
The Dining Experience
With its 5 quaint tables and 3 nightly seatings, The Richmond’s booked up to 6 days in advance. Since they serve 14-18 people a night, it allows Owyang to take the orders, do the wine service, and cook.
He emphasizes, “We try to give detailed personalized service of food and wine for everyone who comes through the door. It’s about relationship building…I hope they feel they’re taken care of.” Owyang’s multi-course tasting menu, wine pairing, and 2-3 person staff make for an intimate dining experience.
When it comes to the food, Owyang mentions “we make everything in house, from the bread to the ice cream to the pasta. I personally make everything. I don’t buy pre-made foods.” As a result, the menu’s ever-changing and always authentic.
Both customers and staff radiate a close-knit connection. Upon reflecting on The Richmond’s name, Owyang mentions it wasn’t his first choice. He remembers, “I originally wanted to call it A Neighborhood Place,” to encourage that connection with customers.
He continues honestly, “I had trouble with the name.” While constructing the business plan, Owyang’s aunt asked him, “Where’s the restaurant?” Owyang answered, “Well, it’s in the Richmond,” and it stuck.
Owyang expresses his desire to “have an old-school feel.” His restaurant and lifestyle support a traditional way of connecting with people. “We’re under the radar. I like it that way. We’ve had people coming here for 16 years. I don’t even have a website…I didn’t even text until last year…I just open the doors and people come through [them],” Owyang explains.
Progressing Through the Pandemic
Though The Richmond’s had its doors closed these last few months, Owyang’s not so worried about the future of the business. Instead, he’s using the time to reflect and stay focused. He claims, “I know there’s a lot of people hurting out there. I see this as an opportunity. I’m just trying to use the time to take advantage…to do everything better. To do it in a more thoughtful way.”
Unlike 100-seat fine-dining restaurants that might struggle filling up, Owyang’s confident in his ability to serve his 5 tables every night like always. Owyang states, “We’ll be here when the time comes to do what we normally do. I don’t think we’ll miss a beat when we reopen.”
The ‘08 recession prepped Owyang and his wife to protect themselves and the restaurant. With full awareness of San Fran’s high labor costs, Owyang treats the pandemic similarly to the recession.
At that time, he learned that “the market for us is always there. People still wanted to go out to celebrate birthdays and anniversaries without spending $300. We got the trickle-down effect. [The Richmond] gives people an alternative dining experience. Our model doesn’t change during the good times…or the bad.”
Owyang’s business model remains valuable at this time, despite its current lapse in service. Still, as was true 16 years ago, all they have to do is open their doors and the people will come.
The Richmond’s new hours will be Monday-Friday. Their first seating will be at 6 pm and the last at 8:30 pm. Stay connected to The Richmond for their reopening day!