Richmond business hub opens with co-working spaces, pop-up restaurants

on May 13, 2019

The newly-opened Richmond Business Hub stands on the first floor of the Richmond BART parking garage at the corner of 16th Street and Macdonald, across the street from the Rich City Rides bike shop. It was unveiled last month during a ribbon-cutting event attended by city councilmembers, residents and members of the Richmond Main Street Initiative, a nonprofit dedicated to revitalizing the downtown.

The 10,000 square-foot hub is a co-working facility: two working space ventures, Co-Biz and Oakstop, are part of it. It’s also a food hall; Red Bay Coffee and Roux Bayou, a soul food restaurant, are the first two businesses to join. The food businesses are within Oakstop’s open space, inside freestanding white cargo containers remodeled to serve as tiny restaurants. Oakstop and Roux Bayou are open now for business, Red Bay Coffee will open later this month, and Co-Biz is set to open in September.

The mission for the hub is to create a place where Richmond residents can participate in the city’s economic growth as it invests in the downtown, according to the press release for the ribbon-cutting event. “I want the community to know that this business hub is for them,” said Ernst Valery, developer of the Richmond Business Hub and managing partner at the Baltimore-based developing firm SAA EVI.

Decades ago, Richmond’s downtown was a popular East Bay hangout. Richmond Mayor Tom Butt said the area “was at its peak” during the second World War. “It started going downhill in the 1970s,” said Butt. “It’s finally starting to come back.” Butt said that opening the new business hub is not the beginning of a downtown revitalization, but that it may be its tipping point.

As the city’s downtown changes, people involved in the shift are making sure they create it with Richmond in mind. “When people talk about empowerment, you almost have to wonder: ‘Whose empowerment?’” Valery asked. “Who gets the capital?”

The hub’s founding business owners, along with Valery, will help Richmond residents create proposals for food-related pop-up businesses that could be located in the hub. People who want to open a temporary, limited-run shop must submit a proposal. If the pop-ups are successful, Valery will work with their owners to turn them into permanent restaurants.

The people who run the two office spaces that will anchor the hub are also prioritizing hiring local residents as staffers. One of these anchors is Oakstop, an affordable coworking and event space that also serves as a business center for artists and entrepreneurs. A pass for Oakstop includes wifi, printing and access to private, soundproof calling booths. The open space has tables with tall stools for clients to work on and stacks of flyers with information about local events, such as Taste of Richmond, where the city’s food and drink businesses are showcased. Near the Roux Bayou restaurant are a series of desks that will soon have monitors available for clients.

Every person working at the new Oakstop location is a Richmond resident, according to Trevor Parham, the company’s director and founder. Oakstop, which opened its first workspace in 2014 in Oakland, is also entirely black-owned and operated. “One major focus was not just to create a business center for artists, but really a business ecosystem that would focus on hiring people of color,” said Parham.

Parham founded the first Oakstop after noticing a pattern: Artists were driving economic interest in Oakland, he said, but gentrification and a changing real estate market were driving those same artists to move away. “We need to keep those artists in Oakland, and in downtown in particular,” said Parham. “Richmond now is in the same position economically.”

The group’s first hire at the new location was lifelong Richmond resident Christen Thomas, who is now the site manager. Thomas initially submitted a proposal to join the hub as an entrepreneur. She was hosting pop-up brunches, and she wanted to join the food hall. Her proposal wasn’t approved, but she met people involved in the opening of the hub, including Parham. She stayed in touch with him and other business owners because she wanted to make sure Richmond residents were hired to work at the new space.

“When these types of developments come into a city, we all worry about gentrification,” said Thomas during a phone interview she took from Oakstop’s calling booth. The single-person phone booth has a wooden exterior and a bright green interior, and it includes a power outlet and a chair, plus heating and air conditioning.

But, Thomas said, that’s not been the case with the new hub. “What I’m seeing in my everyday are people who look like me,” she said. “It’s for everyone, but the focus is creating a space for black and brown people.”

That’s a philosophy shared by Valery, as well; he wants to develop the city without displacing Richmond residents. But he understands the barriers people of color often face as entrepreneurs, such as knowing how to put a proposal together or how to develop a business idea. “We’re going to hold people’s hand” when it comes to developing business proposals, he said. “We want to be that support system.”

In addition to the hub, Valery also hopes to help redevelop the surrounding downtown in a way that provides opportunities for local entrepreneurs and creates more community spaces. A few ideas he’s working on include retail stores, cafés, and a brewpub—and his goal is for each business to be owned or staffed by residents. “We’re adding so much density downtown because we want Richmond to also be that place people can come up,” he said. “We want Richmond to be inclusive and welcoming.”

As the hub goes through its series of soft openings for the businesses still in progress, events will be held to showcase the amenities that are already available. A June 15 event will highlight Roux Bayou, Red Bay Coffee, and Lupita’s Mexican Food, a local food business.

Note: The date for the event was corrected to June 15.

10 Comments

  1. Tek Sandoval on May 14, 2019 at 9:13 am

    The place needs better signage. It’s hard for the public to know what’s going on there. I’ve been following the space’s progress closely and even I can’t quite firgure it out. You’d never guess it was a place selling food and coffee. It all looks rather cold, empty and uninviting.

    • Richmond Food Hall on May 15, 2019 at 10:35 am

      Thanks for your feedback.

      We just added an A-frame sign to the sidewalk yesterday morning explaining that we are indeed open and offer food, coffee, wifi, and event space rental.

      We expect to have even more signage and information on-site and online before the end of the month. There will also be more events for the community in June.

      We invite you to come back anytime M-F between 8am – 5pm to get to know us, offer any other feedback, or have a bite to eat.

  2. John on May 14, 2019 at 10:54 am

    I went by this weekend and it was closed with construction still going on inside. It’s definitely not open yet.

    It’s not just the signage that’s bad. The PR for this place has been poor pretty much since ground breaking: construction updates were too few and lacking detail, numerous opening date projections were missed, and they held a misleading ribbon cutting ceremony before they were ready to open.

    I’m really hoping this place does well but the management of it so far doesn’t seem like a good sign.

    • Richmond Food Hall on May 15, 2019 at 10:55 am

      The Richmond Food Hall is currently only open M-F from 8am – 5pm, and will eventually be open on weekends as well.

      We finished construction in April and were doing some repainting last weekend, which is what you saw when you went by.

      Once construction was complete, we had a ribbon cutting to thank all of the contributors to the project and also let the public know that the space is open and available for event space rental. Roux opened the following Monday, May 6 and Red Bay Coffee opens next Monday, May 20.

      We also have a management company in place now that is facilitating PR, signage, and overall operations of the Food Hall.

      You should see even more improvements to the overall presentation and operation of the space this month. We invite you to stop by and chat with us about any other ideas or feedback you might have!

      • John on May 15, 2019 at 7:11 pm

        That’s great! Thanks for the info. I really do hope it’s successful.

  3. Tre on May 15, 2019 at 10:07 am

    I made a visit to Roux twice after 8:00am and their doors were closed although it stated on their flyer it opens at 7:30am. They didn’t seem prepared to be open.

    Not a good 1st impression

    • Richmond Food Hall on May 15, 2019 at 11:06 am

      Roux is now open M-F as early as 8/8:30am and will be scaling up operations over the coming weeks to open earlier and stay open even later for dinner, weekends, etc.

      People have been coming in on weekdays for breakfast and lunch and really enjoy the food offered on this preliminary menu. We apologize that they were not prepared on your first visits.

      We invite you to come back soon as we’re confident that we can make a better impression now that the space is open regularly. Thanks for your feedback.

  4. Dez on May 15, 2019 at 10:28 am

    I went last Tuesday around lunch time on May 7 and the food was delicious!!! I wanted to try a few things and grab some items for my husband and little ones for dinner as well. I ordered the chicken salad sandwich, peach cobbler soufflé, vegetarian chili, chicken soup, pound cake and strawberries and one more item I can’t remember. Portion size and prices were awesome for the quality of food I received. The owner did state that currently they are not open weekends. Hopefully they will reconsider in the future as I would love to dine here with my family. I agree with the previous comment about having more signage but disagree as I felt very warm and welcomed inside the space. It has a modern relaxed feel. It is comfortable dining alone or with friends and family. I had an AWESOME first time!!! Thank you Roux!

    • Richmond Food Hall on May 15, 2019 at 11:09 am

      Thanks Dez!

      Glad you liked the food and brought some food home to your family!

      We hope to be open on weekends this summer and will have even more signage in place in the very near future! Please do bring your family.

      We will have a weekend showcase event on Saturday, June 16th which would be a great opportunity to bring your family to dine.

      We hope to see you again soon!

  5. Troy on May 17, 2019 at 9:12 pm

    I would like to open a popup restaurant here how can I go about selling my empanadas?

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