In Richmond’s Blackwell neighborhood, 27-year-old Lamarr Johnson is building his food empire while hoping to deliver some of the best barbecue in town with Pig & Brew.
The city’s barbecue scene was saturated with high-impact establishments, including ZZQ, Alamo, Mission and Buzz & Neds, when Johnson opened a boutique in November 2018 with his upline, Lamont Hawkins, owner and master of dining at Inner City Blues Takeout in the East Fin. Today, their location at 1313 Hull St. is launching the kind of barbecue that will fall on the bone and stay in your dreams.
Johnson got the idea for Pig & Brew while working at his godfather’s restaurant and attending Old Dominion University. During school weekends he came back to help and in exchange, Hawkins showed him the ropes of running a restaurant and taught him the recipes he had perfected over 20 years of business. culinary experience. One day, while drinking, as college kids do, Johnson had the idea of combining his godfather’s recipes with his skills behind the bar at a restaurant that excelled at both.
He chose the Blackwell area, not to be confused with the adjacent area of Manchester, as his company headquarters because of its charm and expected growth. “The Richmond 300 [initiative] was doing a lot of planning for this area,” Johnson recalls. “So I felt like [it would be] the next booming neighborhood, but will still retain the vibe and culture of what was already there.
When COVID hit just over a year after Pig & Brew opened, Johnson had to innovate. He was one of the first to start selling take-out cocktails after Virginia ABC temporarily lifted a ban on take-out sales. Johnson says sales of to-go cocktails have been successful for him and “made up for not having a bar” at the height of the pandemic.
Now that the Pig & Brew bar has reopened, you can usually find Johnson behind it, as head mixologist. Or he could be in front of the house, interacting with one of his tables munching on a barbecue. He believes a hands-on approach to restaurant management allows him to focus on what people want with attention to quality.
North Carolina Sweet Sauce
So how does Pig & Brew stand out in terms of taste? It would be his North Carolina style which is a bit sweet with “more of a ketchup base. As it warms up, it caramelizes a bit,” according to Johnson. He likes to take that traditional North Carolina barbecue and merge it with a creative bar. options, like its Hillbilly Fries: hearty, filling fries with your choice of barbecued pork or chicken, bacon and cheese.
For entrees, ribs are one of the most popular options, and Johnson likes to “leave them a little fatty, so they have a good flavor.” We smoke them for a long time and over low heat, [so] that they are so tender that they fall off the bone,” he says. In order to get the best deal, go for a late lunch on Wednesdays and Thursdays from 1 to 5 p.m. and you can get a chicken or pork barbecue sandwich, fries, and a drink, all for $10.
Pig & Brew is offering discount cocktails for happy hour Wednesday through Sunday from 3-7 p.m. and Sunday brunch from 11 a.m.-3 p.m. for discounts on mimosas and some serious brunch bites, like the Hot Chick, fried chicken thighs tossed in their OMG Sauce – a slightly sweet, slightly salty and to die for glaze, with French toast.
One of the most popular cocktails is The Blackwell, an ode to the neighborhood that combines Hornitos tequila, blueberry puree, simple syrup, lime juice and Sprite. [Full disclosure: the author of this piece runs the RVA Happy Hours website and Pig & Brew has advertised there in the past]. The restaurant is also open for dinner on Sunday (from 3 p.m. to 8 p.m.). And burger nights are on Wednesdays from 6-8 p.m., when you can get a burger for $6, and there’s “power hour” on Fridays from 8-9 p.m. with $8 shots of Casamigos, the co-founded tequila by actor George Cloney.
Mentoring and resources for inner-city schools
But Johnson isn’t just a barbecue man, he also has some impressive side projects. For starters, he’s working on getting his pilot’s license to start a charter service; Johnson says he co-owns a medical freight transportation service with his mother.
But of all his gigs, he’s proudest of his nonprofit, Dreamers Academy Foundation Inc., through which he “mentors and provides resources to inner-city schools.” They hosted a toy drive that collected more than 10,000 toys for area youth over the past three years and provided financial literacy classes to local families, in partnership with Capital One. Other programs include educational development, career development, athletic development, and community outreach.
Johnson doesn’t just want to grow his business, he wants to cultivate community and bring the people around him with him. And he wants to do it while respecting his personal mantra: “If you have time, you have time to improve.”
Pig & Brew is located at 1313 Hull St. and is open Wednesday through Thursday from 1 p.m. to 10 p.m., Friday through Saturday from 1 p.m. to 10 p.m., and Sunday for brunch only from 12 p.m. to 5 p.m.