When Hassan Kaisoum was 11 years old, he lost both of his parents. Nearly homeless and roaming the streets of Morocco, someone handed him an eggplant, which he put on the stove and promptly burned. But he was hungry, so he sprinkled some vinegar on the scorched eggplant and ate it anyway—it tasted good, he says, because nothing tastes worse than hunger.
For the past 19 years, Kaisoum has been cooking more flavorful eggplant dishes (and baklava…and tagines…and schwarma…and other Mediterranean cuisine) at his restaurant, Aromas Café, which opened in 1998 in the Forest Street building at Fontaine Research Park on Fontaine Avenue and moved to the Barracks Road Shopping Center in 2007.
But Saturday, October 14, will be Aromas Café’s last day of service at Barracks Road.
Kaisoum says that when he was offered a spot in the shopping center in 2007, it seemed like the center wanted to bring in more small, locally owned businesses.
But currently, Barracks Road Shopping Center is home to a slew of chain restaurants: Burger King, McDonald’s, Zinburger, Zoe’s Kitchen, Brixx Wood Fired Pizza, b.good, Tara Thai, Panera Bread, Peter Chang’s China Grill. When Aromas closes, Hot Cakes will be the only locally owned non-chain restaurant in the shopping center.
The shopping center is owned by Federal Realty Investment Trust, a publicly traded company with a market value of more than $9 billion that owns 96 properties in what it calls “strategically metropolitan markets” in the Northeast, the Mid-Atlantic, California and Florida. The company acquired Barracks Road Shopping Center in 1985.
C-VILLE reached out to the shopping center for a comment on the departure of their longtime tenant, but at time of publication, they hadn’t returned a phone call or an email.
Kaisoum says that he wasn’t chased out of the space; he’s leaving of his own will and has sold the remainder of his lease to the next restaurant that’ll occupy the space. He’s leaving Barracks Road, he says, to return to his roots.
Kaisoum’s favorite part of owning a restaurant is the relationship it allows him to have with the community—he knows many of his customers well and has seen them through soccer games (Aromas sponsors an adult amateur soccer team), graduations and weddings, births, deaths and much more. Many of his customers followed him from his Fontaine Avenue café to the location at Barracks Road, and he says they’re likely to follow him to the next spot, too.
For loyal Aromas customers who’ve carried the restaurant for just shy of two decades, Kaisoum has a message: “Thanks from my heart for your support. I’ll be here for you for another 10 years…just be patient for a few more weeks” to find out where that’ll be.
Enraptured by food
Rapture’s new chef, Jeremy Coleman, is the kind of person who lines a closet in his house with plastic and uses it to cure his own meats. “You know those black binder clips? I used those to clip the meat to coat hangers,” he says about making his own bacon.
Coleman, who arrived in town just a few months ago, has cooked for more than 20 years at various restaurants in Richmond, Williamsburg and in Pennsylvania. He took over Rapture’s Downtown Mall kitchen from Chris Humphreys, who is now chef and co-owner of Fellini’s at 200 Market St.
Coleman says he’s a seasonally minded chef who uses local ingredients (such as pork from Autumn Olive Farms) and locally made components (like MarieBette Cafe & Bakery’s challah rolls) whenever possible. He aims to think up a new dish every day and welcomes input from his kitchen staff. He also offers unexpected dishes—like a butternut squash “guacamole” made with roasted and smashed butternut squash instead of avocados.
Inspired by Mad Hatter, the Charlottesville-made condiment with locally grown habanero peppers, plus olive oil and pineapple that strikes “the happy medium between a generic chili seasoning and the vinegar-based extra hot sauce,” Coleman will cook a dinner on Monday, October 23, that will showcase Mad Hatter not as a condiment but as a sauce. The five courses, each of which will be paired with a Devils Backbone beer, include a tako poke made with octopus, pickled pumpkin, onion, scallions, sesame seeds and Mad Hatter sauce; a raviolo made with Mad Hatter pasta, braised Autumn Olive Farms pork and egg yolk; and ice cream with a Mad Hatter-dark chocolate magic shell and a coconut-white chocolate ganache.
In addition to creating a new menu each season, Coleman plans to cook more one-off dinners, one focused on sausage and another, likely next summer, focused on tomatoes. He wants to remind diners that Rapture is, and has been, more than a late night DJ and dance spot—it’s a restaurant focused on great food.
Parallel 38 is now open in its new location at 817 W. Main St. (best known as the former location of L’Etoile). We’ll have more details on the menu soon, but for now, we can assure you the labneh is on it.