Chef Michael Lindsey Opens Seven Restaurants In Richmond Since 2020 With More On The Way

Chef Michael Lindsey Opens Seven Restaurants In Richmond Since 2020 With More On The Way

Chef Michael Lindsey and Kimberly Love-Lindsey opened Lillie Pearl in Richmond, Virginia in 2020, … [+] and then added six more eateries, each with a different focus. Pictured is an interior photo of Lillie Pearl.

Courtesy of Lillie Pearl

According to 48-year-old chef/owner Michael Lindsey, who opened Lillie Pearl in Richmond, Va. in 2020, most Black chefs in the south become “one-trick ponies.” Most African-American chefs are pressured into specializing in “fried chicken and Southern soul food,” he said, and that’s what they often become known for.

But Lindsey, who now owns seven restaurants in Richmond, all co-run with his wife Kimberly Love-Lindsey, didn’t want to be pigeonholed. At Lillie Pearl, he offers food “with global influences, Latino influences, Asian influences and West-African influences as well.” He created the menu so he could appeal to a wide array of diners in the Richmond area.

Yet he acknowledged that “fried chicken is one of my absolutely popular dishes. I wasn’t going to add it to the menu, but I had to. My customers wanted it.”

Lindsey, a Richmond chef/entrepreneur, has opened a variety of eateries, with varied menus, done so on a limited budget, and has been attracting a wide variety of clientele.

Buttermilk and Honey has three locations, Bully Burger specializes in burgers and fries, and ML Steak is a modern chophouse, demonstrating how Lindsey devises inventive concepts.

The key to running seven successful eateries in one-mid sized city of 225,000 residents, he said, is “taking care of our team. We develop in-house our chefs and our managers. We keep these people so when it’s time to move to the next restaurant, we have people in the house who know our style and food.”

Another key to Lindsey’s success, he suggested, was “being able to cross-over and attract people from all walks of life, all income and all races.”

And that stems from the diversity of the menu, which contains salmon with cream sauce, roasted carrots and cauliflower, favored by a more sophisticated clientele, but has balance with the inevitable, you guessed it, fried chicken.

At Lillie Pearl, the most popular dishes include short rib egg rolls, lobster shrimp and grits, and braised lamb shank with jollof rice, a West Indian dish.

When he and his wife launched Lillie Pearl, it was during the height of the pandemic, and few banks were offering loans to small businesses. Lindsey sent personal letters to targeted banks and investors, asking for a loan, and one loan officer at Virginia Commonwealth Bank, who was familiar with his restaurant resume, responded. It offered a $50,000 loan, and Lindsey and his wife added $50,000 from their savings to get the restaurant off the ground.

“But we only used $50,000 to open it,” he admitted.

It also employed a technique, which he calls, using “second-gen space,” or opening in spaces which had equipment, tables, refrigerators, from eateries that had shuttered, which he could buy used at a discount.

Since then, he has opened six new eateries, all, he vows, for under $50,000 each. In New York City, he’d have to invest five times as much, at a minimum. The couple kept investing their profits, looked for inexpensive rent and didn’t add on expensive equipment and furniture.

And the restaurants aren’t particularly small, accommodating from 45 people to 100 each.

He and his wife Kimberly Love-Lindsey operate their roster of eateries in tandem. She oversees the front of the house and the financials, and he, the cooking and cooks.

Lillie Pearl was successful out of the starting gate, generating steady profits, which Lindsey and his wife then plunged into opening a second eatery, Buttermilk and Honey, then a third. “We put all of our money into the restaurants,” he admitted.

Running seven restaurant requires a team at each eatery. So each location has its own executive chef, sous chef, general manager, and assistant manager. And there’s also an area chef and director of operations to oversee everything.

And Lindsey isn’t done yet. He envisions opening two more locations in 2023 and then two more the next year.

Next up in 2023 is an expected sports bar, likely honoring his dad’s nickname, Bolo’s, specializing in pizza and wings. What do people in Richmond watch at a sports bar since they only have a minor league baseball team, the Richmond Flying Squirrels and Richmond Kickers, a professional soccer team?

Lindsey replied it will beam mostly college games, primarily, basketball and football, from the Virginia Commonwealth team, University of Virginia, and University of Richmond.

He’s also looking into opening a true Southern restaurant in a Richmond suburb.

He described the target market that frequents his eateries as an eclectic group that includes people in “sweat pants or suits, families, parties and date nights.”

Asked the three keys to its future success, he replied, 1) Taking care of our people based on salary and development, 2) Continuing to highlight hospitality, 3) Being thoughtful with our food.

Editor’s note: A previous version of this story incorrectly spelled Lillie Pearl

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