For Billy Bryan, the kids’ shopping trips to Thalhimers downtown were defined by two things – dressing up and eating cake.
“My memories of growing up were getting dressed and heading downtown to the main store on Broad Street. My mom or grandma would be in white gloves and hats and we would go down for the day shopping,” he said. “We always ended the day with lunch in the Richmond Room (the in-store restaurant) and a slice of Thalhimers six-layer cake.”
Bryan hopes to tap into local nostalgia and introduce new generations to the food served by the now-shuttered Richmond department store by featuring it at his new neighborhood market in Henrico County.
The Market by Whisk opened Monday (today) at 8308 Staples Mill Road. The neighborhood market concept is a rebranded and improved iteration of Henrico Whiska’s outpost, which Bryan opened in the same location last year. The original Whisk in Shockoe Bottom, which Bryan purchased in March 2022, continues to maintain its original cafe and bakery style.
The new market offers prepared foods such as salads, sandwiches and desserts in addition to coffee and baked goods. Bryan said the pivot was inspired by customer interest in such a concept.
“It’s a new way of looking at things.” I was looking at the West End market and talking to customers there. They wanted our traditional bakery products, but they also wanted more grab-and-go stuff,” Bryan said. “You’ll still have all the popular whipped cream, but also all these amazing Thalhimers cakes, whole or sliced, as well as all these very unique things like grain bowls, potato salad and pimento cheese.”
The Staples Mill site was briefly closed during redevelopment. Bryan has put his executive chef and COO, Jason Hagerman, in charge of the space’s new discovery and recipe development.
Initial Thalhimer offerings include a six-layer cake, chicken salad, potato salad, and a spoon.
“Those are the things that I immediately brought back because they were the things that were the most nostalgic for me. But also when we talked to people in town who had that experience, those were the things that kept coming up,” said Bryan, 47.
He got his hands on the Thalhimers cake recipe through last year’s acquisition of Northside bakery Michaela’s, founded by former Thalhimers baker Michael Hatcher. Bryan co-owns the bakery with Carson Rhyne.
Thalhimers non-dessert dishes are a combination of reverse engineering and tracking down recipes floating around the community to recreate the Thalhimers menu that Bryan remembers growing up in the 1980s.
“Through much research, I was able to find savory recipes among my research by getting them from various people who happened to have them, or recreating them to the best of my memory and having them tested by people who would remember them.” Bryan said. “If I found them, it was through talking to someone who might have known a cook there who gave them the recipe, or someone shared it in a church cookbook somewhere.”
Bryan said that while he didn’t have to, he sought approval from the Thalhimer family, which ran a local chain of department stores, to offer recipes and meal modifications to the company. He said he spent time discussing the idea with Elizabeth Thalhimer Smartt, who has written a book about her family’s retail heritage.
Thalhimers began as a dry goods store in Richmond in 1842 and has grown into a 26-location chain with a multi-state presence. Thalhimers folded in 1992 and the six-storey Broad Street flagship store closed the same year.
“After I acquired Michael’s and before I intended to go forward with savory dishes and chicken salad and all that and launch the market, one of the things that was very important to me was to reach out to family.” Bryan said. “I couldn’t in good conscience have done it without their support and their blessing.”
Bryan said that he hoped to further expand his list of Thalhimer offerings in the future, and that he would rely on his mom for help.
“Once we get it where I think it’s right, then I’ll send it to my mother. My mother is my biggest supporter and biggest critic. So he tells me if something doesn’t taste right with it,” he said. “And she’s intimate with the Thalhimers. When she worked downtown, she ate at Thalhimers almost every day.’