The road to self-discovery can be a long and winding one, and if you’ve visited 2623 E. Broad St. in Church Hill over the past 20 years, the historic building has presented itself as a few different iterations of a coffee shop.
First there was Captain Buzzy’s Beanery, which occupied the space for over 15 years and poured the fan-favorite Church Hill Blend. Then there was a short-lived venture from husband-and-wife team Tasha Bobrosky and Brian Colegrove, who purchased the space in 2019, renaming it Riverbend Coffee Co.
In recent months, the cafe has been reintroduced as Riverbend Roastery, and it’s clear that things are not the same: The once quirky coffee shop with mismatched mugs and kitschy furniture has received a breath of fresh air and energy.
Behind these changes is Liberty Public House proprietor Alexa Schuett, 31, who has transformed the business. The interior has undergone major renovations, the staff is a blend of new and familiar faces, and the cafe’s food and drink offerings have been revamped.
“We kind of jumped in and did a quiet takeover,” Schuett says. “I wanted it to have a cleaner aesthetic — somewhere you felt like you could sit and get some work done and also curl up in the booth and enjoy your coffee if that felt good to you.”
It was at the Liberty Public House bar where conversations about the fate of coffee shop began. Initially seeking operations advice, the previous owners of Riverbend ended up asking Schuett, a dining industry veteran with a more than a decade of experience, if she wanted to purchase the business.
“I called my wife and said, ‘Hey, babe, want to buy Riverbend?’ ” Schuett recalls. The answer was yes, and in June, Schuett closed on the building.
Searching for a leader to help steer the shop into its next chapter, Schuett wanted someone who was personable, open to implementing change, and able to serve an established and loyal clientele while attracting a new cast of regulars. Her answer: Claire Millon, a tenured barista whose resume includes stints at Lift Coffee Shop & Cafe, Crossroads Coffee & Ice Cream, and Sugar Shack, who serves as Riverbend’s general manager.
“She took the job, and then we have just spent [time] renovating and turning it into something we can all be proud of,” Schuett says.
One of the most noticeable changes at the cafe — apart from a brightened-up space now adorned with coffee bags, plants and a sleek seating area — is the coffee itself. Schuett says Riverbend only sources beans that are fair trade, organic and Rain Forest Alliance-certified. Seasonal blends such as blueberry and coconut — which were formerly available all year long — have been set aside until summer, and instead varieties such as Mighty Maple and Sweet Spud have replaced them. For Church Hill Blend fans, the longstanding variety remains, but with slight tweaks.
Specialty drinks include the Canela Latte, made with sweetened condensed milk, or the Honey Bee, which features house-made honey-lavender syrup and oat milk, or the pumpkin spice chai, a riff on the seasonal favorite. Brews prepared in a Yama slow-drip maker are also available.
The spare food menu lists five different sandwich options, from the Chimbo Club to the plant-powered Veg-Head, all available on a choice of English muffin, ciabatta or multigrain bread, or a bagel.
“[The sandwiches] can fit any time of day — a Chimbo Club on a bagel feels like breakfast, but on a ciabatta feels like lunch,” Schuett says.
A Maryland native and VCU grad, prior to opening the two Church Hill outposts, Schuett and her wife, Brittany, traveled the country in an RV, landing in Tacoma, Washington. Originally on a mission to find a “real job,” Schuett says she rerouted her plans and instead began working as a bartender. Eventually entering a managerial role and overseeing multiple restaurants, she gained her food and beverage chops.
“Everything kept keeping me in the industry,” Schuett says. “I realized I wasn’t leaving, that this was the path I was on. I already had something I was good at — I don’t think I can do anything else, I loved it.”
In early 2019, she says, she turned to her partner and declared, “I’m ready to buy a restaurant; are we going to be Seattle people, or go back home?”
The answer was the latter, and they returned to Richmond, Schuett purchasing Liberty Public House later that year, just months shy of the onset of the pandemic.
Now with a second venture under her belt, Schuett says being able to offer another retreat for the community, and having a team that includes people such as barista Felicia Crawford, whom she describes as a “staple in Church Hill,” is part of what she loves most about her work.
“I get to talk to people all day, and they come to us when they’ve having a great day or a terrible day, and it feels like that is such a privilege,” Schuett says. “If you’re going to a locally owned spot on your best day and your worst day, that’s family.”
Riverbend Roastery is open Monday through Friday from 6:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. and Saturday and Sunday from 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. Beginning Dec. 6, the shop will be open daily until 6 p.m.
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