by Nathan Cushing
- Who: Jason Friedhoff, 32, is of Greek and Sicilian descent and began cooking at age 11
- What: A “real Mediterranean” restaurant that will feature family recipes
- When: Planning to open July 15th
- Where: In the Fan at the corner of W. Main and Strawberry
- Why: “When you have people who are happy because of something you made it’s great,” said Friedhoff.
DISHES: One item will be chicken seasoned with shawarma spice and onions and served on pita bread. Both pasta and pasta sauce will be homemade. Vegetarian and Vegan options will be available.
— ∮∮∮ —
Friedhoff may be a Germanic word, but Jason Friedhoff is all Mediterranean. His attitude about food shows that he is a true chef. “Leave me in the kitchen all day and I’m happy.” The same can be said for his family.
His grandfather opened a bodega in Sicily decades ago, and when Friedhoff was 11 years old his father put him behind a grill.
“Cook,” commanded his father.
“But I don’t know how!”
In 1984 his grandfather, now living with the family in Richmond, opened a small restaurant named The Bistro on Robinson Street in the Fan.
In 1997, at age 17, Friedhoff opened his own pizza restaurant, Papa Lou Pizza. Joined by his two brothers and several friends, the young group bought failing Little Caesars franchises and turned them into family-owned restaurants. When he was 18-years-old, Friedhoff co-owned six locations throughout Richmond’s east side.
After owning the first property for less than two years, the new owner of Little Caesars asked to buy back the properties. He gave Friedhoff and his partners $100,000 for each location, and each partner took $70,000 after taxes. They all bought BMW’s. “We thought we were cool.” Friedhoff had just graduated high school.
Most of the partners disbanded. Some went to school, some traveled, one slipped, fell into the James River, and drowned. Friedhoff eventually attended a New York City culinary institute run by his uncle.
Most recently, Friedhoff owned the Q Club on Midlothian Turnpike. “I didn’t like the nightclub business,” said Friedhoff. Too many drunks. Too many fights. He hated going to work, he said. He wanted a kitchen again.
For six months, he looked for spots around town. In the spring, he came across a property at the corner of Main and Strawberry streets in the Fan. He told the property owner, Pete Mancini, about his plans to create a small Mediterranean restaurant–a true bistro– that honored the first restaurant Friedhoff’s grandfather created years ago. Although an unnamed chain restaurant had made Mancini an offer, he decided to go with Friedhoff. The new owner took over in early April.
“It’s a family-based business,” said Friedhoff, whose iPhone seems to ring nearly as often as he breaths. “Restaurants are what we specialize in.” He hopes to open July 15th. To help celebrate, he’s in talks with the Metro Richmond Zoo to provide two camels that will stand outside the restaurant and greet guests. He also plans to give neighborhood businesses 50% off their first order.
Mediterranean Bistro will offer homemade pasta and items from a near-endless family recipe collection. For instance, he said that celery and carrots will be the base of the pasta sauce. Friedhoff said that they will then use cured Roman tomatoes, not too soft, as that hinders the sauce’s quality. He will also use shawarma spice, the Mediterranean-based spice with a soft cinnamon scent, to give customers the unique and distinct flavors of that region. He said the restaurant will use only fresh, seasonal ingredients.
Keeping with an old Italian tradition, bills at Mediterranean Bistro will be whole dollar amounts. Friedhoff said that those prices will include taxes so that customers need never use change.
He expects lunch meals will be $3-$6 per dish. The dinner menu will have roughly 17 entrées, and will not exceed $9. Friedhoff is adamant that prices will be low. He said that a couple can eat for $30, including cocktails (without the alcoholic drinks, $15-$20). With only nine tables, Friedhoff wants to create a true Mediterranean bistro atmosphere. He wants customers to feel as though they are in a Mediterranean coastal town, eating food prepared by a local. He’s confident that he and his family will succeed. “I know we’re good at this,” said Friedhoff. “This is what we do.”