Urban Farmhouse and their five (soon to be six) locations have become a Richmond mainstay in just the five short years they’ve been open. They’ve done this by relentlessly working to create a sense of place - a place that works for a multitude of people and purposes and that provides the highest quality, local, sustainable, and dietary specific products available. Today we talk with UF founder (with a lowercase ‘f’), Kathleen Richardson, about how she grew her business and what the future of UF looks like.
Interview : Kathleen Richardson
Tell us how the first Urban Farmhouse got started?
When I moved back to Richmond in 2008, I had developed the concept and had a business plan that was a cross between places I had worked at and visited over the years. But then the recession hit, and the plan fell apart. During that time, I was able to meet and connect with a lot of people who would end up helping me so much with the opening. By 2010 we were ready to try again, and we opened our first location that year downtown.
What’s the Farmhouse’s current status - how many locations and where are they?
We have five locations at the moment: Shockoe Slip, Midlothian, Church Hill, Scott’s Addition, and this new location at VCU. We have a sixth location opening up in Manchester by the end of the year. We eventually plan to expand up I-95 and across I-64 to Charlottesville, Williamsburg, and Fredericksburg areas. We can expand to these areas while still sourcing from the same local companies, which is important to us.
What makes UF unique from the dozens of other coffee shops in Richmond?
We’re not just coffee. I think of us as more “fast casual.” Things are made quickly, but at a higher quality than “fast food.” We still have work to do in solidifying who we are, but right now I love that people use us for whatever they need, whether it’s their coffee house, lunch spot or for wine in the evening.
The other thing that makes us unique is the quality of our products. I scrutinize every single product we sell to ensure they are all natural and clean - dye-free, hormone-free, sustainable, etc. We’re always looking to improve and if something doesn’t meet our standards, we just won’t have it. We really take time to search for the best products. For instance, the tea we serve has real buds and our balsamic vinegar has no artificial coloring. These are hard things to find, but worth it. We’ve done the hard work of finding these products so our customers can know that they are always going to get the highest quality food and drink when they’re here
What are the qualities you look for when considering setting up shop in a new neighborhood?
There are several things. First, there needs to be traffic generators nearby. Downtown has large employers and businesses that feed our business, so we’re always looking for “feeders.” Secondly, it just needs to “feel” right for us. This newest building was built in 1914. The floors and walls are original, and I love that. You won’t ever see us in a strip mall. There’s a kind of funky, rustic feel with the urban element as well that needs to be there.
We’ve also been fortunate to have landlords and developers who actually want us there because they know people are seeking this kind of experience. The market we move into doesn’t necessarily have to be mature. We are willing to be patient and wait for the neighborhood to develop.
Looking back, what was your single biggest learning experience in opening five establishments?
It’s definitely more difficult than I thought and it requires a lot of energy to stay focused, to grow and to realize the vision that you have. You wear a lot of hats and some days the hats aren’t as fun to wear. I think the biggest learning experience has been on the operation’s size. It has made me so appreciative of the past companies I’ve worked for with multiple departments. HR, Operations, Repairs! Thank God my husband is so passionate and energetic in these areas and eventually we will have other people who are passionate about these things who will handle them.
What stays the same and what changes from shop to shop?
Every location needs to have that Urban Farmhouse “feel” - rustic, funky, but urban. However, the music in each store is different because we let the employees choose. Scott’s addition loves old, old country music.
What are the best 30-minutes of your day?
I get up early each morning, around 5, and I’ll go for a run. And that early in the morning there is a stillness in the air, and I’m thinking about the possibilities of the day. But there are moments with my children that I treasure since two of them are in high school and still at home - the other two are in college.
Another moment I love is when I come into a Farmhouse and I see everyone using it the way I envisioned it - someone using their laptop, someone reading, someone talking about biking or gluten free or their healthy lifestyle.
What does retirement look like?
I really don’t believe in it - never have. I’ve seen too often in prior generations this restlessness, or like people gave up on life. I think people need to be active and need purpose - all the time. I never expect to retire. I do want to be able to retire, but I don’t really plan on it. The experience of owning my own company has cemented this for me - I always thought I could own a tiny little coffee shop just to be able to talk to people.
On being an entrepreneur:
I was in the corporate world and worked for great companies, but I was kind of doing the same thing over and over for years - the faces were different but the people were the same. I met people, like Brian of Belle Isle, who just took the plunge into owning their own business and it encouraged me to do the same. Younger people don’t know any better and can be bigger risk takers. It’s interesting to see both generations taking that plunge. We talk about young people having had things handed to them, but what I love about entrepreneurship for young people is that it forces you to get out there and learn things the hard way.
Photography by Alexander Kreher