Richmond is home to a lot of breweries. And they’re great. But sometimes the problem is: You start drinking, you get hungry, and there’s nothing to eat.
Ardent Craft Ales in Scott’s Addition has launched an in-house food program to “solve the food problem,” in the words of owner Tom Sullivan.
Now, besides trying a fresh pint of honey ginger beer or a flight of Ardent’s award-winning beers, visitors can tuck into house-made fresh sandwiches like roasted turkey, pesto and nduja — a spicy pork salume spread — or pastrami with Swiss, cornichons and kimchi on sourdough.
Ardent also has added wine and cider as gluten-free options to its menu for non-beer drinkers.
Over the years, Ardent has tried to “solve the food problem with varying degrees of success,” Sullivan said.
The biggest hit was ZZQ Texas Craft Barbeque, which held a pop-up at Ardent for two years with long lines and sell-out menus, before building its own brick-and-mortar restaurant around the corner.
Ardent has long relied on food trucks, but scheduling could be tricky and when a food truck didn’t show up, which Ardent couldn’t control, customers would get ticked. The brewery has been thinking of adding its own food option for over a year, long before the coronavirus shut the doors for months.
Other items on the menu include ham with pimento cheese, truffle honey and basil; a vegan sandwich option; and salads like antipasto, cucumber and dirty Caesar with salami.
“We wanted the sandwiches to reflect the thoughtfulness we put into our beer,” Sullivan said. “We worked on some ideas for the past few months with a mix of ideas and influences.”
“After six years, we decided we need to bring food in-house to have a consistent food option and to expand our offerings beyond beer,” Sullivan said. “For co-workers who want to have a drink after work, not everybody drinks a beer. We wanted to offer something so that you could still come to Ardent and please everybody.”
The food, wine and cider additions are just a few components of the many changes Ardent has made since the coronavirus closed the taproom doors in March, Sullivan said.
“It’s almost like we restarted the taproom in a way,” he said. To adapt to the pandemic, Ardent introduced curbside pickup and delivery, which has been a big hit.
“It’s a pretty great thing to be sitting on your porch on a Friday night and have someone deliver beer to your front door. People are like, ‘This is amazing.’ And I’m like, why haven’t we thought of this before?”
Sullivan says Ardent will continue delivery as long as there is demand. The new food menu also can be delivered.
Ardent reopened its beer garden to the public roughly two weeks ago, with the beer garden at 50% capacity and tables spaced at least 6 feet apart. They also introduced a reservation system and new hours, including lunch, Tuesday through Sunday, noon to 8 p.m.
“It’s almost like a totally new business,” Sullivan said. “We went from being a bar to being a full-service restaurant.”
The competitive landscape in Scott’s Addition for craft breweries also has changed. When Ardent launched, only Isley Brewing Co., a nanobrewery, was in the area.
Scott’s Addition now is home to six breweries as well as cideries and a distillery and meadery. The other breweries are The Veil Brewing Co., Väsen Brewing Co., Three Notch’d Brewing Co. and Starr Hill Brewery.
Plus, the neighborhood has changed. In a short time, it has exploded with lofts and apartments, bringing thousands of residents there.
“Ardent has gone from a destination brewery to a neighborhood backyard bar,” Sullivan said. “We’re focusing on that and realizing that’s who we are and what this neighborhood has become. We wanted to adjust our service model to appeal to the people in the neighborhood.”
As for the response, Sullivan said, “People are like, ‘Finally. I can finally come with my partner who isn’t a beer person. And we can eat food.’ People are excited that we heard them.”