FOOD- THE DISH- Pick up Sticks: Kabob shop expands to Richmond

This Preston Avenue kabobbery, opened in '01, is sproutin'.

Like a child leaving the nest ready to make her way in the world, our home-grown kabob shop Sticks opened a location earlier this month in the growing Willow Lawn area of Richmond's West End.

"It's a huge risk taking that walk from home," says Bill Hamilton, who developed the Sticks concept with three of his former managers and opened the first restaurant on Preston Avenue in 2001. Three years later, they opened another in the Pantops shopping center.

"The concept has to be tight," Hamilton adds. "This is a big step for us."

Hamilton– who's also the brains behind Gearharts Fine Chocolates (he opened the chocolate shop with another former employee, pastry chef Tim Gearhart, also in 2001– did not take that step lightly. Along with those former managers– Ty Austin, Chris Dubois, and Webb Brown (who Hamilton says are the real faces of Sticks)– Hamilton has put a considerable amount of thought into developing "the Sticks brand" in the hopes of creating– dare we say, a franchise?

"From the beginning, Sticks was designed to be operationally slick," says Hamilton, meaning it could be easily reproduced and operated by someone else, somewhere else. "You have to be able to be run by someone else in a new market," he says. "You have to show this if you want a franchise to have legs."

So far, things appear to be going well. "It has exceeded our expectations," says Hamilton of the Richmond opening.

Still, Hamilton is careful not to get ahead of himself. "We are a pretty organic bunch," he says, "so we're being careful not to grow too fast."

Indeed, Hamilton points out that the growth of his restaurant group has its roots in the business he started with his wife, Kate, 13 years ago: Hamiltons' at First & Main, one of the more upscale restaurants on the Downtown Mall.

"Hamiltons' started as a genuine family business, and our growth now is an extension of that," he says. "The people involved are an extension of that family business– we've had an embarrassment of riches in terms of personnel." 

As for the Sticks menu, Hamilton calls it "an American homage to ethnic cuisine" that brings things like kabobs, falafel, and humus to people who might not feel comfortable visiting a truly ethnic restaurant.

So will Sticks become the next Taco Bell or Chipotle? 

"We're not setting out to be the McDonald's of Middle Eastern food," he says. "Doing this comes from a genuine love of this kind of food."

Still, Hamilton acknowledges that Middle Eastern food has yet to be popularized on a larger scale. 

"We get requests for franchise packets," he says. "But we're being cautious. We want to take it slow."

Meanwhile, he appears to be having plenty of fun.

"I love creating new restaurants," he says. "I'd do one every year if I could."

City to scofflaw restaurants: pay up

NBC29 recently reported that the City is cracking down on restaurants not paying their meal tax, a four percent charge on every meal served which accounts for five percent of the City's general fund, or about $7 million, which goes to police and fire services among other things. Last week, Commissioner of Revenue Lee Richards issued summonses to six area restaurants, including the Outback Lodge on Preston Avenue, which hasn't paid up in several months.

However, some recent good fortune for the area night club, bar, and restaurant may have saved the day. Not mentioned in the NBC29 story, a source close to Outback owner Terry Martin reports that he bought a $100,000 winning lottery ticket at the Shell gas station on Preston Avenue a few weeks ago. Martin could not be reached for comment, as the restaurant's phone is still disconnected, but the source confirms that Martin did in fact receive the big fat check. Of course, that could be good news for music lovers, as the Outback has been lately filling the music venue void caused by the closing of Starr Hill Music Hall and the Satellite Ballroom. 

 All this food news was first reported online. Check it out at