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Urban Farmhouse owner reflects on recent speedbumps

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Urban Farmhouse Market & Café closed its VCU location at 800 W. Broad St. (J. Elias O’Neal)

RICHMOND, Va. — After nearly six years of rapid expansion, a recent wave of store closings has Urban Farmhouse owner Kathleen Richardson pushing the reset button on her café’s strategy and looking for investors.

“Sometimes you have to look back and reevaluate everything,” said Richardson, who founded the local chain in 2010 in Shockoe Slip. “I think that’s something good for business…and it’s something I’m working on moving forward into the new year.”

That reflection was prompted by the closure this year of three of her six Urban Farmhouse locations. Her Church Hill store closed in February, followed by the shuttering of her Manchester outpost in November. Then earlier this month, she was forced to shut down her VCU store after little more than a year.

A native Richmonder and VCU alum, Richardson returned to the region to launch Urban Farmhouse after 20 years of working in the food service industry for corporations like McDonald’s, Starbucks and Panera.

“I was ready to do something on my own,” Richardson said. “The idea of a clean food, quick-serve location where people could grab-and-go, and know that they were receiving fresh, healthy foods was important to me.”

She pumped $150,000 to launch her first location on East Cary Street six years ago and the café quickly became one the region’s fastest-growing local brands – often finding roomy, renovated digs in one of the city’s up-and-coming neighborhoods for its new locations.

“We had the model down,” Richardson said Thursday morning at her Scott’s Addition café. “Once we found a location, getting the site set up and staffed was never a problem because we had the concept down.”

By the start of 2016, Richardson was on course to open her seventh Urban Farmhouse location, with plans to branch into other sectors of the region and city.

But there were signs early on at a few of her newer cafes that gave her pause – the biggest being slow sales.

“When I first opened the Rocketts Landing location, it made money within the first month of opening,” Richardson said. “That gave me the confidence to go out and open additional locations in other neighborhoods, thinking that the same effect would occur.”

And while optimistic about the neighborhoods she entered, she says finding additional capital to keep the locations operational became difficult – forcing her to close in Manchester and VCU.

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