How Richmond Restaurant JewFro Is Working to Bring Together Two Local Histories – Bon Appetit

Posted By on May 2, 2022

Richmond is a natural birthplace for a restaurant like JewFro. The former capital of the Confederacy relied heavily on an industry of slavery, which primarily operated in what is now JewFros neighborhood. As early as 1790, Richmond boasted the fourth largest Jewish population in the country, according to the Jewish Virtual Library. The local Jewish communitys relationship to Black residents has long been fraught. An estimated 75% of Jews in Richmond owned enslaved Africans at the beginning of the Civil War. Particularly after the Holocaust, Jews in Richmond stepped up their support of civil rights, but already facing discrimination and fearing a backlash, they often did so behind the scenes, according to the Virginia Center for Digital History.

Today, Richmonds population is almost 50% Black, including small communities of African immigrants. Its also home to a modest but active Jewish community. JewFro isnt the only local effort to address the two groups shared histories; the Jewish Community Federation of Richmond partnered with organizations like the Black History Museum and Cultural Center of Virginia on an educational program about Jews in the Civil Rights Movement last Black History Month, for example. But the restaurant is arguably the most visible and ongoing attempt to foster cross-cultural relations between Black and Jewish communities in this city.

Before JewFro opened, there were already restaurants serving Jewish or African food in Richmond, of course. Locals love Perlys Deli, Africanne on Main, and Nile, among others. With JewFro, Owens and his partners are getting at something elsea crossover that expands the bounds of the cuisines it encompasses.

Doing things differently has required education, including for dinersand sometimes even familywith strong feelings about their favorite foods. Augenbaums own grandfather couldnt believe the restaurant was charging $18 for chopped liver, a traditionally modest and affordable dish in Ashkenazi Jewish communities that Augenbaum makes with the inclusion of foie gras.

By pulling from a range of cultures, yet diverging from all of them, JewFro aims to offer an experience that forces diners to think beyond easy narratives. That begins with the restaurants potentially loaded name, which some locals arent sure how to interpret, and continues with the menu, which includes a glossary explaining that kishka is a Jewish sausage made with schmaltz, and dukkah is an Egyptian nut and spice blend.

Theres nothing traditionally Jewish or African about JewFros approach. Thats exactly the point. Our goal is to remind you of the thing youre familiar with, but do it in a way thats new, Hovnanian says. People are really excited about it after they get over the initial shock of What is this place?

For many Richmonders who have flocked to the restaurant, JewFros unconventional approach is refreshing.

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How Richmond Restaurant JewFro Is Working to Bring Together Two Local Histories - Bon Appetit

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