As you may have guessed from previous Easy Goer posts, it’s a pretty exciting time to be in our hometown. It seems like every week there is a new restaurant, cafe, or thoughtfully planned shop opening their doors, making it harder and harder to find reasons to leave Richmond. We recently stopped by Roaring Pines, a home goods shop and soda fountain featuring American-made goods that feels like taking a step back into history – albeit in a wholly modern way. It’s become our go-to stop to slow down, enjoy an egg cream, and get to know the locals. Here, we talk to proprietor Drew Dayberry about the future of the historic Union Hill Neighborhood and his ongoing advocacy for Made-in-USA goods.
Tell us a little bit about yourself and your background. How did you end up in Richmond?
For simplicity’s sake I always tell people I am a Richmond native. But, if we’re splitting hairs, I’m just a kid from the Southside who spent his childhood sneaking into the city for nefarious reasons. After high school I moved into Richmond proper and went to VCU. Nothing too original about that story.
As for my background, I’m a product of a retail world. I think retail is a noble profession if you’re selling honest products. Somewhere along the way while working retail nonstop I managed to pick up a degree from The VCU Brandcenter. The day after graduating I boarded a plane to Portland, Oregon to work for an advertising agency called Wieden+Kennedy. While I was there I worked on a lot of insignificant campaigns with some amazing creatives for big companies like Nike, Target and Levi’s. After a few years with the corporate blues I bailed to work at a camping startup named Poler.
We know you’ve been involved with Poler for quite some time. What’s your role there and what are are some of your other projects?
My official title at Poler is ‘Director Of Ecommerce’ but titles don’t really mean anything when you’re working in a closet with three other people and it’s all hands on deck 24 hours a day. I owe all those guys a lot of credit for hiring me during those early days.
The success of Poler also allowed me to moonlight with other burgeoning brands and help them grow their ecommerce business as well. Along the way I discovered a lot of other American manufacturers that I love. So with that in mind, my wife and I decided to move back to Richmond, an incredibly affordable city, and start the Roaring Pines online store.
Why is American manufacturing so important to you?
Supporting my neighbors and my local economy is important to me, and I believe buying American manufactured goods is one of the best ways of doing just that. America is filled with talented craftsmen, factories, and industries from coast to coast. Why should we send all our money overseas when we could be helping those down the street from us? The Roaring Pines goal is simple: Help people discover and purchase products by manufacturers here in the states. We aren’t waving or wearing any American flags, none of our packages are delivered by bald eagles and we’re not pledging any allegiances every morning. We just want to be good neighbors.
What are the challenges of strictly carrying American-made goods?
I’ll be the first to admit that just because something is made here in America it isn’t necessarily better than something made elsewhere in the world. I’ve worked with many companies that are forced to make things overseas because the factories or skills simply do not exist here in the states. It’s not even a matter of price – it’s just a cold hard fact that we either don’t know or aren’t very good at making certain things over here anymore. I even carry a few products in our store currently that are made elsewhere in the world to help illustrate that point. There is plenty of opportunity to be had in American manufacturing, people just need to be willing to put in the time and hard work. It’s not a cakewalk but is certainly more fulfilling than making products overseas via emails.
What inspired you to open a craft soda bar?
There’s nothing more American than a soda fountain. The soda fountain is something we can truly take credit for here in America. With discovery at the core of everything I do with Roaring Pines, I wanted to create a more social atmosphere for adults and kids alike to hang out and have the opportunity to soak up what is being made in their country. I think it is a pretty natural fit; general stores like ours on Venable St. have had soda fountains in them for over a hundred years.
Where do you find inspiration for your soda recipes?
With a little bit of searching you can find thousands of recipes from the early days of soda fountains. A lot of those recipes were created with now illegal substances, downright questionable ingredients, or to simply hide the taste of medicine. That combination doesn’t usually result in a pleasant taste. That’s not to say we don’t have a few classic items on the menu that harken back to those early days, but we are by no means in ‘old timey shoppe’. I prefer to look forward rather than back, and dream up new things with interesting ingredients and techniques. So far our specialty drinks with Pok Pok’s drinking vinegars have been the most popular item on the menu, which was a pleasant surprise. Some drinks do better than others and that pushes the menu in new directions. It’s a truly democratic soda experience.
What do you want Roaring Pines to be for the historic Union Hill neighborhood?
Union Hill is one of Richmond’s most beautiful neighborhoods, but also one that’s had its ups and downs over the years, and we’re proud to be a part of where it’s headed. We want the store to be a place for everyone, both old and young, to come in grab some supplies and hang out. We don’t want to be another bar or brewery, Richmond has enough. We just want to be a place where people can enjoy each others company. Plain and simple.
You seem to be invested in Richmond and its future. What do you hope to see for our city?
I wouldn’t have ever admitted how much I like Richmond ten years ago but this backwards city of ours is starting to catch up with the 21st century. I’m proud to call it home. That said, the barriers to setup anything more creative than a bodega or restaurant in Richmond are daunting. If your concept isn’t listed as a checkbox on a piece of paper there is no way you’re getting through city hall without months of explanations. Until we get advocates at city hall to help younger generations and their new concepts get through the paper trail we will never be able to move forward like other cities already have around the country. I just want to help Richmond shake the dust off and let new younger generations have their turn defining where the city is headed.
And now for the Proust Questionnaire:
What is your idea of perfect happiness?
Quiet evenings with my amazing wife and son. They do a remarkable job at putting up with me.
What do you think is the most overrated virtue?
Ambition. Too much eats away at a person’s morals. It’s far better to execute something small perfectly, than it is to build an empire on the bodies of those who got in your way.
What living person do you most admire?