by Charles McGuigan
Kristin and Tracey Thoroman love food. Everything about it, too. Its origins and preparation, its presentation and how it’s served. Opening HOBNOB in the space The Hermitage Grill occupied for two decades was a dream come true, as well as a marriage of the couple’s passion for food and community.
When they do have free time, the Thoromans love to watch cooking shows, their favorite being “A Chef’s Life” on PBS, which features Vivian Howard and her husband Ben Knight, who operate a restaurant in North Carolina that specializes in locally produced food for seasonal menus. “In fact,” says Tracey, “We went to their restaurant, The Chef and The Farmer, on our wedding night three years ago in Kinston, North Carolina on our way to Savannah.”
Kirstin knows a lot about presentation and organization. She’s the exhibitions manager at Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden, the one responsible for putting together seasonal offerings like Dominion Energy GardenFest of Lights and Butterflies.
And Tracey has been in the food and beverage industry from the time he was little more than a boy. At sixteen, still in high school, he went to work at the Crossings Golf Club, and though at first he worked on the links, he soon moved into the clubhouse, washing dishes, his passport to the kitchen.
“I just sort of fell in love with the process, cooking food, and making people happy,” he says. “During the winter I used to work with Cater Corp.”
Over the next two decades Tracey would learn just about all there is to know about running a restaurant, and how to create culinary wonders. He worked for Paul Ivey, owner of Virginia Barbecue, managing their restaurant up in Fredericksburg. For eight years, on and off, he worked for Garland Taylor at the Hometeam Grill. “I was the GM for the Twin Hickory location for about a year, but realized my love was in the kitchen,” says Tracey.
Most recently he managed food and beverage operations for three golf courses in New Kent County, a job he had for about three years. And then Bill Hatch, one of Tracey’s long-time friends, happened to run into Waller McCracken, co-owner of the Hermitage Grill. They leaned against their carts halfway down an aisle at COSTCO. Waller was looking for a nighttime chef. Bill immediately thought of Tracey.
“Well I might know somebody,” Bill said. “But he’s probably looking for a little more than being a chef.”
“I’d still be interested in talking to him,” said Waller. “I’m thinking maybe in the next couple of years of selling.”
Tracey talked with Waller, and he agreed to come on as night chef this past June. Five months later Tracey and Kristin bought the business. “It was an asset purchase,” says Tracey. “We fell in love with the bones of this place. We thought it was a great location, and we really love the neighborhood. We love the idea of a neighborhood family restaurant. Love the fact that it’s small and manageable, and we have a great little staff here.”
“And,” says Kirstin. “We live in Lakeside.
The purchase was finalized on November 13, and four and a half days later HOBNOB opened. Which is just short of miraculous. They completely redid the front of the house. “Waller allowed us to start renovating that Sunday night right after Hermitage Grill closed for brunch,” Tracey remembers.
They had help. Dave Phillips, who live a block away, offered to paint. “He came here four o’clock that Sunday night and started painting, and he stayed until 5:30 the next morning,” says Tracey. “He went home for five hours, came back and painted until four the next morning. He did all the walls in white.” In that same short time, a local subcontractor in the neighborhood installed a new floor.
And community support has continued. Tim Laxton, owner of Early Bird Biscuit Company, supplies HOBNOB with biscuits for their Sunday brunches, and biscuit dough for the crusts of their chicken pot pies. What’s more, he doesn’t charge them. “Tim’s been an awesome supporter of ours and he doesn’t let us pay,” Tracey says. “That’s one of the things we love about Richmond, there are so many supportive restaurants now, so many people who want to see other folks succeed. Another cool thing about Richmond is that people really support the local restaurants more than probably anywhere else in the country.”
Even at this early date, HOBNOB is becoming known for certain signature dishes, chicken pot pies, and shrimp and grits among them.
“I think another one that’s been really popular is the chicken and waffles we serve for Sunday brunch, says Kirstin. “Brunch has been just a huge hit for us.”
“This past Sunday we did a hundred covers from nine till three,” Tracey says.
“The salads have been very well-received,” says Kirstin. “I think a lot on our menu is right now seasonally for winter so it’s a lot of comfort food, things people can warm their bellies with. But we want to be conscious of those people who want a nice fresh salad with interesting ingredients.”
“One salad that’s been really popular lately has been the crispy potato and arugula salad,” Tracey says. The potatoes are par cooked, then fried at the time of ordering, and served with fresh mozzarella, toasted almonds, Applewood bacon, arugula and a maple vinaigrette.
HOBNOB is also known for its beef brisket empanadas served with buttermilk barbecue sauce. And a roasted cauliflower appetizer topped with a caper, pistachio, garlic and lemon zest gremolata.
“Kirsten was pushing to put it on the menu, I thought it might be not be something that connected with our customer base right off the bat,” Tracey recalls.
“What happened on opening night?” asks Kirstin.
“We sold out of it,” her husband admits, grinning. “It was an instant hit.”
A few weeks back they offered as a special a twelve-ounce ribeye steak with roasted Yukon potatoes and grilled asparagus. It sold out.
“Our meat loaf has been very popular, and so has our lasagna,” Tracey says. “We want to feature something different each day. By changing the menu seasonally, we’ll keep it fresh. As we continue to grow, we’ll continue to resource local farmers. We want to connect with some farmers who will grow specifically for us.
“Like the Chef and the Farmer,” Kirstin says with a smile, and Tracey nods.
“I think people also recognize that our focus is on hospitality and being a warm and welcoming place,” says Kirstin. “And being a husband and wife duo working at a spot where we are passionate about the food we serve, and making people feel at home. It’s more than just the food; it’s the service, it’s the feeling you get when you come into a space like this.”
6010 Hermitage Road
Tues-Fri 11-11; Sat 5-11; Sun, 9-3