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Meet a Business: Toast, New American Gastropub

Meet a Business is a series featuring the person behind some of your favorite locally-owned businesses.

What is your name? 
Jessica Bufford

What's your hometown? 
Newton, North Carolina

What is your business name?
How many years have you owned/managed your business? 
9

What did you want to be as a child?
A Janet Jackson backup dancer. Seriously. I instead studied theatre and film in college, and appropriately, became a waitress while in graduate school. :)

What is the most popular item you sell?
The Toast Burger - 1/2 pound hand-pressed patty, chargrilled to order (you want it rare, we'll make it rare) on a locally baked brioche bun with mixed greens, fresh tomato, cheese and applewood smoked bacon, then topped with hand breaded and fried pickles and onions served with bbq aioli on the side. It comes with one of our many sides, but our handcut fries or sweet potato tots are definitely the favorites.

What local business can you not live without?
Our local vendors! Flour Garden, Carytown Coffee, PFG, but personally I have lots of shout-outs for some local businesses that I love. Beyond the Fringe is my fave salon (also a great neighbor to Toast); Tweed & the Shops at 5807 have the BEST gifts - they always make me look so put together and thoughtful; I eat a lot of sushi from Wild Ginger (another Toast neighbor at our Midlo location).

In what ways has your business changed since COVID-19?
In what ways hasn't it? Our company, as a whole, has gotten smaller. We have consolidated and refocused. At our original location, we were were open all the way through the pandemic.

We closed our dining room at 4pm on March 16th and flipped to, what I believe, was one of the best executed take-out-only dining experiences in Richmond. In the restaurant business, we often feel like we're fighting for every guest and every dollar, in covid, that feeling was amplified. Without the dining room or really much bar business, all we could do was focus on creating the most delicious food we could, and delivering it the best way possible, in a take out box.

As time went on, guests became more excited about what we were doing and how we were doing it. I believe that they realized we were being very thoughtful and intentional with our execution and trying to offer them great food at a reasonable price. We knew this was The momentum behind our social media, our special take-out-only events (gluten-free fried chicken, anyone?), and our brand was so humbling and rewarding, I still get a little teary-eyed thinking about it. It would take many hours, and probably a box of tissues to fully explain how COVID changed our business, and honestly, changed me.

What's the first thing you do every morning to set the tone for your day?
HUG MY KIDS! Like not just a small "good morning, how'd you sleep" hug, but a big ole squeeze ya, kiss ya, love ya hug. Starts my day right, every single day. (My kids are 6 and 3.)

What tool, object, or ritual could you not live without in your workday?
Besides the ritual of my morning cup of coffee, COVID taught me that I (and my restaurants) can live without a lot of things, but the technology that we use on a daily basis allows me to focus on our staff, guests, and food, rather than spending my day with my nose in a checkbook.

We use an online scheduling software, time clocking system, direct deposit, Google Drive, cloud-based Design software, Toast POS, Asana Task Management, and so much more! When Josh (my husband) left his job in the software space about 2 years after we opened, he helped to implement and maintain these vital infrastructure pieces to the business. He is the one behind all of these things that allow me to do what I do best, which is focus on our food and service. I can keep the books straight if I have to, but all of these things help me. I guess maybe it's my husband I can't live without throughout our workday!

How did you come up with the name for your business?
We liked the idea of being a place like "Cheers", so we decided on "Toast" instead. A place where people know your name and are glad you're there. The gastropub craze was kind of big at the time, but for the gastronomy, not the actual definition of "gastropub" (a pub that specializes in serving high-quality food). When we read that definition I said, that's what I want to be. Your local, neighborhood pub but with amazing food and extra-ordinary service.

How did you get the idea for your business?
I always knew I wanted to create or build something. My family owned a small religious bookstore my entire life. I grew up in a small business family. I didn't realize I loved the restaurant business until I was in my late 20s and when Josh and I got married in 2011, we decided to take the leap together. I had a couple of concepts that I was working on and we spent over a year looking for the right location. When we went into the then-City Limit space, we knew that was the spot for Toast!

What does the world need more of?
Respect and Real Food.

If you could have one superpower, what would it be?
To heal people - there is so much hurt in our world right now. I wish I could help make that go away.

What's your favorite thing to do in Richmond when you're not in your business?
Our family really loves to get outdoors and go camping. We love our local state parks.

What's your hidden talent?
I love to dance and sing!

What was the first concert you ever attended?
Oh goodness. I saw Amy Grant & Michael W. Smith at the old Charlotte Coliseum in North Carolina when I was in my early elementary years.

Who do you look up to and why?
My Mama! As a single mother who worked tirelessly to put my brother and I through school she taught me work ethic. She never complained, she never gave up. She put her family first, every single day. She has always been my #1 fan. She finds ways to support me endlessly, even to this day. She helps me raise my kids. She is the "MOM" behind "Mom's Cakes" at Toast.
One day 7 years ago, not long after she moved to Richmond, I was talking to her about how I was having a hard time keeping up with desserts, and of course, my mom "the fixer" says "Why don't I come in a few days and help make desserts." She always made our birthday cakes and stuff growing up, but baking wasn't something we did a ton of in our household, but I was like, "OK, let's do it." Here we are years later, and she has a cult following. Guests have threatened to kidnap my mother because her cakes are so good. I am not kidding!

What's the best thing about being a local business owner? 
The impact I can make. We currently have around 75 employees (we were at 125 pre-covid). I realized during covid that our impact is so much greater than just our employees. Our venders, who all have local representatives who live off their commissions and salaries that are supported by our business, felt the impact during covid as well. It's knowing that we can make a significant difference in the lives of so many people by just opening our doors every day that is one of the best things.
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