When Richmond restaurant Perly’s closed abruptly after more than 50 years in business, the city was shocked. A few months later, news spread that the spot would reopen with a new owner, chef, and menu, but the name, core concept, and retro interior would remain almost the same. TLP checked in with Chef Kevin Roberts to see how things are going six months in.
What was it like setting up shop in a spot with so much local history?
Daunting. I’ve always loved the space, but if you would have told me 10 years ago that I’d be assuming the property and operating a Jewish-style delicatessen out of it, I would’ve thought you were the one that was pickled.
Why did you decide to keep the name?
It’s a great name, recognizable throughout this town. The front facade and its signage is classic. I would hate to have been the person to have brought it down. Besides, it was originally opened as a delicatessen by a Jewish family in 1961, the Perlsteins, so it’s actually going back to its roots.
You’re not Jewish, so what inspired you to open a Jewish deli?
My wife Rachelle and her side of the family are Jewish. I’ve pined for a more traditional Jewish deli in this town for a long time now. I was looking to branch out and when this space became available, and the concept seemed to be a good fit.
What’s your favorite dish on the menu?
It really depends on what I’m craving. Sometimes its a hot dog with liptauer, sweet slaw and smooth dijon mustard, other times it’s a traditional pastrami sandwich, but a hot bowl of matzo ball soup always makes me feel grounded and whole again.
How have Richmonders responded to the restaurant?
Naturally there were people who thought that we had desecrated the memory of the original, but the positive response that we have garnered since has been tenfold in contrast. We have people tell us daily that they are so grateful to us for reviving the delicatessen tradition in town and honoring the space by not doing a drastic remodel, just updating and making improvements on what was needed.