The pretty flower garden scenes that Tom Parfitt used to create at home on his focaccia — scenes made from pieces of vegetables and herbs, arranged just so on top of slabs of the homemade breads — were meant to capture the imagination and interest of his “rainbows and unicorns” daughter, Emily.
He never imagined it would lead to a business venture.
Parfitt, a chef and former University of Richmond culinary instructor, and business partner Kevin Murphy have opened Wildcraft Focaccia Co. at 1303 Hull St. in Manchester. A soft opening was July 8, though they’re continuing to ease into business with hours from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Thursday through Sunday.
Wildcraft bloomed from Parfitt’s efforts to help Emily, his third of four children and youngest daughter. She was born with special needs that, among other things, affected her ability to eat anything beyond soft foods.
Four years ago, when she was 4, he left his university job to take care of her while his wife worked full time. In the midst of that era, he had an idea.
“I started really gardening a lot [and] growing lots of things because I wanted to get her interested in food,” Parfitt said about his daughter. Because of her disability, “all she would eat was peanut butter and jelly, yogurt, [and] I wanted [to get] her into vegetables.”
Always a baker, he started making focaccia bread and creating cute scenes on top to entice her to help him in the garden and, ultimately, eat more vegetables.
At the same time, Parfitt’s intricately decorated focaccia art was gaining traction on his personal social media. He made flower bouquets on focaccia using edible flowers and herbs. He created Van Gogh’s “Starry Night” on focaccia — he even once made a NASA-inspired focaccia for retired NASA astronaut Leland Melvin, who is from Virginia.
As she got older, and with her therapy, Emily gradually began to eat and chew more foods. After a few years, and as his daughter progressed, Parfitt knew he needed to get back to work. He considered opening an artisan chocolate shop, but couldn’t see himself making chocolate every day.
He thought about what he liked to eat — bread and cheese. He landed on a focaccia bakery.
“Focaccia is one of these things that’s ubiquitous,” Parfitt said. “Every culture has a flatbread, there’s a thousand different kinds of focaccia [and] you can top it a thousand different ways.”
In January 2020, with Emily in elementary school and not needing the full-time care of her dad at home, Parfitt officially started Wildcraft. He began looking for real estate, but that came to a halt when COVID-19 hit just two months later. He began looking again in September, found the Manchester location in October and asked Murphy to join him that month.
Murphy agreed, and the two have been building out the former restaurant space ever since.
The cheery place has a counter as well as tables and booths. Lots of plants and greenery sit in the front window that looks out onto busy Hull Street.
Wildcraft’s namesake item creates the foundation for a menu that runs the gamut. Flatbreads, for example, are treated three ways: There’s the crispy, chewy Toasted Flatbreads, lightly topped with black olives and cured tomatoes; chimichurri; Parmesan and garlic oil; and more.
The Topped Flatbreads take those toppings up a notch, for example, with mushrooms and tangy goat cheese; Puttanesca, with its tomato, olive and caper sauce; or fresh tomatoes and Parmesan.
The Loaded Flatbreads are, well, loaded. There’s the Samosa, with cumin- and coriander-spiced potatoes and peas with fruit chutney; or the Sausage+Rapini, with house-made Italian sausage, peppers, onions and garlicky rapini.
Flatbreads are sold by the slice, or in half or whole pans.
Those works of art, by the way — the whole pans of focaccia intricately decorated with herbs and vegetables and other ingredients — are available as catered centerpiece items for weddings (to match the bride’s flowers, for example) or corporate events (think logos) and other special occasions.
From there, the Wildcraft menu offers sandwiches, soups, salads and build-your-own options.
Parfitt recommends the Muffaletta sandwich: ham, salami, mortadella, provolone and olive salad on muffaletta-style focaccia, or its vegetarian sibling, with eggplant, pickled zucchini, roasted peppers, provolone and olive salad, as well as the Zorba, with marinated chicken breast with roasted and pickled peppers, fresh mozzarella and basil vinaigrette.
Sandwiches or combos are $10 and $15, respectively. Flatbreads range from $5 to $9 per slice, $10 to $14 for combos, or $12 to $27 for half and whole pans.
Parfitt, 45, chose Manchester because he was looking for a place with good foot traffic, he said. He acknowledged the neighborhood’s continued residential development as a good sign.
A New Jersey native, Parfitt said his family had friends in Richmond and, when he would visit as a kid, his family would primarily stick to South Richmond in areas near Forest Hill Avenue.
“This was Richmond to me — South Side was Richmond to me, so I have an affinity for this area,” he said. That, “and the businesses that are here [in Manchester] are cool.”
Wildcraft shares the same block with Pig & Brew Barbecue Bar, and it’s two blocks south of Croaker’s Spot.
Parfitt’s recipes are on the menu, while Murphy, 50, a New Yorker who came to Richmond in 2006, takes care of the front-of-the-house operations. He left a decadeslong career in the health care information systems industry to join Parfitt, whom he’s known since moving to Richmond. The two met through mutual friends.
Although he was not in the restaurant industry, Murphy said he’s a home baker and would often talk bread with Parfitt.
The two men complement each other, and “that’s the best relationship I can think of,” Parfitt said. “I have some business background, and he has quite a bit of good culinary knowledge, yet we have this division of labor.”
He added: “Kevin and I have no ego with each other — we want to do what’s best for the business and the customers ... [and] making food that people want to eat.”
Murphy joked that they had an instant connection on a few things — both hate mayonnaise, both drink black coffee and both pick Coke Zero as their soda of choice.
“I don’t think we even knew that it would work as well as it does,” Murphy said. “We’re both used to working on teams and compromising for the greater good.”
He added: “At the end of the day, it doesn’t have to be Tom’s idea or Kevin’s idea, as long as it’s the right idea.”