Will Richey didn’t set out to launch Charlottesville’s most influential restaurant group. But when he created Ten Course Hospitality, he did it anyway.
“Is it planned, or is it sort of organic?” Richey says. “I guess it is sort of an organic process. As we are going, we’re always tightening up ideas, trying to find the right opportunities.”
Richey, who today presides over a fluid empire of about a dozen restaurants and service organizations, got his start as a sommelier and front-of-the-house guy, managing servers and caring for guests. His local break came at L’étoile, the French stalwart that closed after 20 years in 2014. Richey ascended the ranks at L’étoile and along the way met Josh Zanoff, his fellow Ten Course founding partner.
Richey credits Zanoff for teaching him the back of the house part of the restaurant world—how to cook, create menus, dial in culinary concepts.
Richey and Zanoff started working together as caterers, but they wanted a restaurant of their own. The ideal concept? A French-style bistro. The concept that landed in their proverbial bowls after they’d nearly given up hope and gone their separate ways? Revolutionary Soup.
“Rev Soup isn’t what I set out to do,” Richey says. But it was a place he was familiar with—he’d previously worked there as a line cook—and when it came up for sale, it just made sense.
These days, Ten Course is consistently adding new restaurants and divesting of others. And while the opportunities themselves are organic, the fluidity is by design. Richey says he and his partners look to take on about one major project per year.
When Ten Course began managing Draft Taproom and Commonwealth Restaurant & Skybar last year, for example, the group set to work installing its service and kitchen management practices. According to Richey, the owners of Draft brought Ten Course in to turn the business around before quickly selling it—meaning Richey’s team did its job in short order. At Commonwealth on the other hand, big changes are afoot, and Richey says Ten Course is only just getting started.
One of the big changes was bringing in chef Harrison Keevil, formerly of Brookville and currently of Keevil & Keevil Grocery and Kitchen, to redirect the Commonwealth menu. Keevil, Richey says, is the ideal chef to shepherd Commonwealth into its own as a representation of modern Virginia cooking.
Wholly owned restaurants:
Revolutionary Soup Downtown
Revolutionary Soup the Corner
The Whiskey Jar
The Alley Light
Champion Brewing Company
Commonwealth Restaurant & Skybar
The Pie Chest
Red Row Farm
The Wine Guild of Charlottesville
“One of the first things was a need for a tighter vision of what the restaurant was—it was all over the place with the cuisine,” Richey says. “With Brookville not being there, there was a need for a more upscale sort of Southern restaurant.”
Richey has brought yet another model to his management of The Alley Light and The Pie Chest. At both, he’s shifted into a slow buyout process with existing management. While Ten Course is technically no longer a direct owner of either business, the restaurants remain under the group’s umbrella, enjoying its service, management and marketing support.
Ten Course still directly owns and operates The Whiskey Jar, The Bebedero, both Rev Soup locations, Commonwealth and it’s newest addition, Brasserie Saison. Over the years, Richey has also founded the Charlottesville Wine Guild and Red Row Farm.
How does he manage it all? One way to think of Richey is as Charlottesville’s premier hospitality industry talent scout. Finding the best folks around town in individual niches and nurturing their abilities is critical to the Ten Course vision, according to director of wine and hospitality Will Curley.
“As we grow as a restaurant group, we try to identify our top people and find out what their goals are,” he says. “You might be a great server and want to move up, but you would have to leave your current restaurant to do that. We’re able to keep people in the family and leverage the larger talent pool.”
Getting it done
Richey says responsibilities break down like this: Zanoff focuses on The Bebedero and The Whiskey Jar, GM Lindsey Daniels handles Rev Soup and Richey himself spends most of his time at Commonwealth and Brasserie Saison.
“Not to pat myself on the back, but I think [Brasserie Saison] is one of the finest restaurants in town,” Richey says.
Joining on the launch of Brasserie Saison were career sommelier Curley and Hunter Smith, president of Champion Brewing Company. Richey “is a true collaborator,” Smith says. “He doesn’t have to be the guy on every project.”
Curley, who hails from Chicago, says he immediately hit it off with Richey after moving to Charlottesville less than two years ago. “The thing I am always most impressed with is how Will is able to marry his crazy passion for restaurants and hospitality with a good business sense,” he says.
Curley admits a concern with the growth of Ten Course is the dilution of the brand and lack of attention to detail by upper management. But it’s a challenge he’s convinced the team is up to. “What it has allowed us to do is become even stronger with our internal systems,” he says. “Every project we take on, we learn. We cherry pick the best ideas and take them back to the rest of the group.”
Curley says Ten Course’s goal is to raise the standards of service in Charlottesville, and to that end, Richey says he sees the group focusing increasingly on its consulting arm. In other words, Ten Course will be looking for more opportunities like the ones at Draft and Commonwealth going forward.
But Richey hasn’t given up on his bread and butter: fresh restaurant concepts. Who knows—that French bistro he and Zanoff once dreamed of may even happen one day.
“We always have a cache of concepts,” Richey says. “When you see the right space and opportunity, if you’ve built out the concept, you can pop it in.”