Mom & Pop Restaurant Group
Ruegers Hold the Keys to Success in the City of Richmond
We make them feel that they are among friends. Our classic American comfort food is affordable, and reminds them of home.”
In 2004, Beverley and Herb Rueger purchased The Village Café in Richmond, Virginia, and thus began the couple’s entrance into the wonderful world of restaurant ownership. “My husband has worked in the restaurant business for 40 years servicing equipment, so he already knew many of the ins and outs of the industry,” Beverley said. “In the beginning, we worked our butts off 24/7. Our sons Josh and Bert have helped us out a great deal. Over the next 11 years, we’ve added five more restaurants. I’ve grown to love this business, and we really enjoy the day-to-day interaction with our staff and customers.”
As the couple continued to acquire restaurants and their lives became increasingly hectic, they decided to hire industry-savvy general managers to assist with day-to-day operations. “We are very fortunate to have found Shannon Conway and Frank Burnetto. Shannon and Frank are young, innovative professionals who really know what they’re doing,” Beverley Rueger said.
The Rueger Restaurant Group includes six dining establishments throughout the city, each offering its own brand of Southern hospitality — The Village Café, Star-lite Dining and Lounge, The Grill, City Diner, and LUNCH. and SUPPER!. As you read about each restaurant in the following section, you will notice that each operation fills the “neighborhood destination” niche in this city of just over 210,000. The surrounding metropolitan area has a population of about 2.4 million. The Ruegers have certainly found the keys to success in the city of Richmond.
The Village Café
Home Away from Home
When Beverley and Herb Rueger purchased The Village Café, it was already an established mainstay in the neighborhood. “The Café was opened in 1956 by a gentleman who immigrated to the United States from Greece,” said Beverley Rueger. “He wanted to create an establishment reminiscent of his homeland. All these years later, we still use some of his tried and true recipes.”
Location is one of the keys to the over half-century success at The Village Café. The Virginia Commonwealth University campus is nearby, and students frequent the Café for its proximity, homey atmosphere and American comfort food. “During basketball season when there’s a VCU Rams home game at the Siegle Center arena, this is the place to be,” Beverley said. "A line forms out the door and down the street. Basketball players come in, and so do opposing teams, so there’s a lively rivalry. It’s especially spirited when Old Dominion is here. It’s my alma mater, so I wear a tee-shirt with Virginia Commonwealth on one side and Old Dominion on the other. Depending upon who’s seated at the table I’m visiting, I either face forward or backward.”
Students have come to think of the café as their home away from home. “We make them feel that they are among friends. Our classic American comfort food is affordable, and reminds them of home.” In addition to college students, there are families and retirees living in the neighborhood who come in frequently. “Our regular customers come in two to three times a week,” Rueger said. “Our staff is very friendly, and gets to know most customers on a first-name basis. Everyone is made to feel welcome the minute they walk through the door. Our customers are a nice mix of people of all ages.”
Open for breakfast and lunch, the café seats 115. It was recently featured on Guy Fieri’s “Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives,” on the Food Network. Calzones and onion rings were the menu items featured on the show. The Village Café is also known for its soups, sandwiches and milkshakes. According to Rueger, they average 40 milkshakes per day.
Young Adults from 21 to 40
Rueger Restaurant Group opened Star-lite Dining and Lounge on Main Street in 2008. “We took over an existing place called Soble’s, which was famous for its burgers. As a tribute, we kept the Soble’s burger on the menu.”
Star-lite is in an area of Richmond known as "The Fan." Back in the day, development of this fan-shaped neighborhood was strongly influenced by the "City Beautiful" movement of the late 19th century. While it is still primarily a residential neighborhood, many cafes and locally owned restaurants are found here. “We just reopened in March of this year,” said owner Beveley Rueger, “after undertaking a total refurbishment of the interior. We also built a new bar, and revamped our menu. We want to change with the times, but retain the things that have kept people coming back to this spot for decades.”
Star-lite is a premier Richmond destination for young business professionals. “A lot of bankers and lawyers come in for lunch and dinner meetings. We attract young adults from 21 to 40,” Rueger said. The Star-lite’s front windows open directly onto the street, inviting passersby to join the crowd. There’s also an enclosed patio for al fresco dining year-round. “After 10 p.m., this is still very much a traditional neighborhood bar. Everyone knows the atmosphere changes a little bit, and our friendly bartenders are kept really busy.”
On Saturday and Sunday, brunch is served from 10 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. “Bennies,” as they call their Eggs Benedict, are the runaway favorite. Star-lite has won Richmond’s annual Chili Cook-off two years in a row. Weekly specials are featured to draw diners. Sunday and Monday, it’s half-price apps; Tuesday, fries of the day; Wednesday, half-price pasta; and Thursday, BOGO burgers.
Menu Options for Days
Beverley and Herb Rueger opened The Grill in 2010. This is the first operation that the couple created from the ground up, incorporating a friendly neighborhood concept, the philosophy they’d previously found so successful. “There is a real melting pot and family orientation here,” said Beverley Rueger. “As with our other operations, we wanted to provide a great neighborhood atmosphere where families and friends can enjoy great food and fun times.”
“Welcome to The Grill at Patterson and Libbie” is the first thing you see on the website, extending Southern hospitality and providing the exact location to first-time visitors at the same time. The first thing you see when you walk in the door is a beautiful wood-paneled bar with enough giant TVs to satisfy sports fans. The large bar is completely separate from the 125-seat dining room to drown out ballgames and boisterous fan noise. “We want everyone to feel comfortable and have a great experience here,” Rueger said.
It would take a month of Sundays for a regular customer to run out of options here. A long list of interesting apps includes Oysters Casino (bacon, garlic and Parmesan cheese), Crabby Fried Green Tomatoes (this Southern specialty is topped with lump crab and a lemon Dijon sauce). The entrée menu runs the gamut from that Southern classic Shrimp and Grits (with tomato cream sauce), a house-smoked Brisket Platter, and Meatloaf to New York Strip steak. Pastas, burgers and hot and cold sandwiches are also found on the extensive bill-of-fare.
The Grill is open seven days a week for breakfast, lunch, dinner and weekend brunch, with plenty of daily specials, theme nights and entertainment to bring in locals and visitors to Richmond alike.
Diner Classics & Regional Specialties
Billed as “the Cheers bar of breakfast spots where the friendly staff always knows your name,” The City Diner was acquired by the Rueger Group in 2005. This cozy 35-seat eatery on Broad Street serves breakfast and lunch seven days a week.
“We get an eclectic mix of customers here — from Virginia Commonwealth University students to older retirees who live nearby,” Beverley Rueger said. “We see politicians, coaches and players, construction workers, notorious locals — you name it. Folks who want a delicious breakfast or lunch that won’t break the bank come back again and again. Brunch on Saturday and Sunday is extremely popular. We tend to see a lot of the same neighborhood people come in week after week. And, yes, we do know their names.”
Judging from the menu, no one leaves the City Diner hungry. The breakfast menu reads like a “Who’s Who” of morning favorites, peppered with regional specialties. Pan-Fried Salted Herrings are served with eggs, pancakes, and the choice of home fries, fried apples or grits. Irish Eggs Benedict stars grilled corned beef. The Chicken Fried Steak and Eggs is smothered in traditional Southern sausage gravy.
At midday, diners can find enough options to keep spicing up their lives with variety for a long time. The menu offers soups and salads, dozens of hot and cold sandwiches, and diner favorites including Liver and Onions, BBQ, Meatloaf, and Salmon Cakes. All entrees are served with two vegetables. For vegetarians/vegans and those diners seeking lighter fare, there is a Vegetable Plate option at lunchtime, and egg white omelets at breakfast.
(Don’t you wonder who those “notorious locals” are?)