When we first began Short Run over two years ago, we saw an opportunity to tell stories and our lookbooks were a way to partner and collaborate with local businesses. From a bourbon distillery to a motorcycle shop, we introduced our audience to the wide spectrum of interesting people in our immediate community.
With the kickoff of The Ledbury Launch Fund, we realized that it was a great time to catch up with the businesses and entrepreneurs that we’ve previously profiled in our lookbooks and blog: Rappahannock River Oysters, Steady Sounds and Hardywood Park Craft Brewery.
Rappahannock River Oysters
Rappahannock River Oysters in Topping, VA served as one of the earliest backdrops for our Short Run lookbooks. It’s hard to believe that this was over two years ago. Our co-founder and CEO, Paul Trible, grew up just down the bay – so this one was literally close to home. Inheriting water-grounds that have been in the family since 1899, owners and cousins Travis and Ryan Croxton have given the business a fresh perspective and are leading the way for the aquaculture renaissance that is taking place here in Virginia. During our conversation with Ryan and Travis, the two touched on growing the business and building notoriety of the Virginia oyster.
Were there any major challenges that you’ve faced during the past two years of business? How’d you overcome them?
Of late, scale has been a big challenge. We’ve had the good fortune of having more demand than supply, but ratcheting up supply can be tricky, particularly when you’re dealing with a high quality product. By no means have we “overcome” the challenge, but we’ve taken the approach of measured growth, ensuring that we don’t take on a new customer until we can satisfy their needs year-round and at the level of quality that keep us and our employees proud of what we do. If scale were to kill pride, there’d really be no point to it all.
Speaking of scale, since we last caught up, Rappahannock River Oysters has opened restaurants in Richmond, VA and Washington, D.C. in addition to the Merroir Tasting Room in Topping, VA. How has operating within these new markets been?
It’s always fun to navigate new bureaucracies (sarcastically speaking), but that aside, it’s been a real treat to have the opportunity to serve the public directly and share our passion for sustainability. 90% of our oyster business has us dealing with chefs and wholesalers – which is enormously rewarding because they “get it.” But the real battle for changing the way we look at and source food is in the streets. Being able to tell a consumer that we don’t have chicken on the menu in March because our farmer’s chickens need fresh grass to finish on gives them an appreciation for the seasonality of food, and a respect for the people and the animals that make all of this possible. We often say, if there wasn’t a story behind everything we serve, we would have just stuck with oystering.
A primary mission for Rappahannock River Oysters is building the notoriety of the Virginia oyster. Have you all been able to make considerable strides within the oyster industry?
I’m happy to report, “Mission accomplished.” But by no means was just one company responsible. Over the last 10 years, Virginia has stepped up to the plate in a tremendous way, spearheading oyster aquaculture growth well beyond any other state. And you’re seeing that on menus across the world – yes, world. You’d be hard pressed to find a “best oysters” list that doesn’t have the Bay on it. And we like to point out, there’s a reason they call the species Crassostrea virginica.
The resurgence of vinyl is an interesting phenomenon, which we recently discussed on our blog. There are many fans of vinyl records among Ledbury’s team, and even a few who have once moonlighted as DJs. So collaborating with one of our favorite Richmond record stores, Steady Sounds, was inevitable. Marty Key, Steady Sounds’ co-owner, took a moment to give us an update on the business of vinyl.
You released a special edition vinyl record a few months ago. Could you fill us in on how this came about?
We’ve released 3 records under our label, Steady Sounds Records, so far. They have been limited to 300 copies and were either Richmond, or Virginia, centric. The first was an unreleased dark-wavy soul album from Richmond, called Trash Company. We put out an unreleased hardcore record from a band called the Mod Subs. And our latest is from a current band called The Archaics, which we released on Record Store Day.
Record Store Day was a little less than a month ago, how’d the day go for you?
It was pretty crazy. It was fun, but a little hectic. Every year it just gets even bigger. The actual day isn’t really that hectic itself, but the build up to it and all the work that goes into bringing everything together weeks in advance is. We had bands, DJs, and food throughout the day. We’re lucky to have a space that’s big enough to hold all of the people that show up when we have a lot going on.
With the rise of online streaming over the past year, has this had any impact on vinyl sales? Does one medium have any influence on the other in any way?
I haven’t really seen any huge impact. As far as one influencing the other, Steady Sounds is on Spotify and we make playlists for albums that have recently come into the store. Hopefully when people hear the songs, they will want to come in and buy it. I think the rise in online streaming helps in a way, and hasn’t hindered sales at all.
In the past few years, have you noticed any growth in the customer base of people listening to vinyl?
There has definitely been a growth. More people are coming in here, and there are more people buying records. There are always people getting into it, but you also have people getting out of it. Daily, I have people coming in and buying stacks of records, combined with people finding them in their grandparents’ basement. So we have a lot of new people coming in, combined with people like me who had never given it up.
Hardywood Park Craft Brewery
Since opening in the fall of 2011, Hardywood Park Craft Brewery has been the driving force behind Central Virginia’s enthusiasm for craft beer. The Hardywood team brings a thoughtful and innovative approach to brewing; and in our opinion, their beer is among the best within the craft beer industry. We recently caught up with the brewery’s co-founders, Eric McKay and Patrick Murtaugh.
We’ve recently been touching on the entrepreneur’s role in building community on our blog. From your Reserve Series releases – Gingerbread Stout, Sidamo Coffee Stout, RVA IPA – that incorporate local ingredients, to the welcoming atmosphere of the brewery on the weekends; Hardywood has integrated into the Richmond community in a seamless way. Was this something that you were passionate about since the beginning?
We both spent much of our childhoods in a very small town in Connecticut where kids built forts and caught frogs and played sports together. Families united over potluck suppers, bonfires, pancake breakfast fundraisers and holiday parties and the sense of community was very strong. While we’d like to take credit for having conceived our community engagement initiatives in our business planning process, nearly all of them have happened organically and the driving force behind many of them have been from people in our community and employees. We’re fortunate to have a ton of creative talent in Richmond and a lot of folks who are passionate about their craft. Had it not been for Bill Cox’s enthusiastic introduction to the baby ginger he grows at Casselmonte Farm; there likely would have been no Gingerbread Stout. Noelle and Jennifer from Lamplighter’s fervent passion for coffee roasting led to our Sidamo Coffee Stout. A carefully curated lineup of free concerts, a diverse selection of gourmet food carts, and a regular hosting of charity fundraising events have been planned and executed by Kerry and Matt in our hospitality department. We’re fortunate to be in a community that places great value on creativity, diversity and culture and hope that Hardywood can continue to contribute positively to that community.
There has been an unmistakable rise in the quantity of craft breweries opening in the past couple of years. How does Hardywood stay relevant in an increasingly competitive market?
Breweries are opening at an incredible rate across the country, with central Virginia being no exception. From the start, our focus has been on brewing beers that would be complements rather than substitutes to other locally available styles. Our flagship beer, Singel, is a Belgian-style blonde ale, which is still rare in the US, but it’s a very approachable style. It pairs extremely well with food, and we believe it deserves a spot on any draft list or store shelf. Our Reserve Series beers not only utilize unique local ingredients like lemongrass, tulip poplar wood and baby ginger, they take creative twists to traditional styles. Our Farmhouse Pumpkin ale is 8.5% ABV and fermented with a saison yeast. Our Gingerbread Stout was the first commercial example of a style that is becoming increasingly popular.
We’ve been excited to see the way that Hardywood has taken off. You all are growing to become a major player within the craft beer industry. Do you have any future plans for continued growth and productivity?
Our plan is to continue to encourage creativity among our brewing team while simultaneously investing in quality. In 2013 we brewed approximately 4,400 barrels of beer. We are hoping to double that volume in 2014. While we must grow our volume of output to be sustainable as a business, our number one priority beyond anything else is to maintain the quality of our beer, to stay innovative, and to keep our customers engaged. Over the past year we have invested heavily in new equipment and employees to help us achieve these goals. These investments include 5 new 120 barrel fermenters, a centrifuge and a highly experienced director of quality assurance. In the next month we have plans to hire two more salespeople and 3-4 more production employees. We feel that we can grow to around 20,000 – 25,000 barrels per year in our current space, after which point we will begin looking at alternative locations to begin the next phase of expansion. Finally, by continuing to open our brewery and tasting room to visitors, we’re helping to raise awareness and appreciation for craft beer while building meaningful relationships with customers that we hope will sustain us through the ebbs-and-flows as the industry matures.
We’re excited to announce the establishment of The Ledbury Launch Fund. It’s our way of contributing to the entrepreneurial community that has been so influential to our brand since our very beginning. For more information and to apply, visit ledbury.com/launch.