Friday, May 17

RVA Eats: Heritage

Emilia and Joe Sparatta (L) with Emilia's brother Mattias Hagglund.
Together, they opened Heritage in the fall of 2012.
Photo by Nicole Lang

Throughout the spring, Nicole Lang is blogging for us about her adopted hometown of Richmond, Virginia (aka RVA). Richmond is the site for this year's Summer Foodways Symposium, which will take place from June 20–22. Over on her own blog, Food Punk, Nicole is telling more stories of the folks—from musicians to fashion bloggers—who make Richmond awesome. Check out her "One Day in RVA" series to meet these men and women. 

As you may have noticed, I’m quite smitten with Richmond’s food scene. But there is one establishment that, for me, encapsulates RVA’s movement toward not just greatness in our collective gastronomy, but the elevation of our community. That place is Heritage.

Joe and Emilia Sparatta, along with Emilia’s brother Mattias Hagglund, opened Heritage in the fall of 2012. They put their passion on every plate, in every glass, and prove their love for Richmond with dedicated and expert service. A trip to Heritage is rejuvenating, like a visit home. You leave feeling well cared for and full of good food and drink.

Photo by Nicole Lang

Heritage is a true mom-and-pop establishment. Joe and Emilia welcomed their first baby just months after opening. Little Hunter Ryland is named for the restaurant where the pair first met.

“Joe and I met at the Ryland Inn in 2002. We were both line cooks,” Emilia recalls. “We later worked together at two other restaurants and then helped to open Elements in New Jersey. We asked Mattias, who was then in Richmond, to join us and manage the bar.”

Behind the bar at Heritage. Photo by Nicole Lang.

Opening a place of their own was the goal, so they returned home to Richmond.

“Eventually, there comes a point where you have taken in as much as you can from your mentors—when it's time to get going,” Emilia explained.

“We knew that we worked well together—that we each bring something different and important to the table—so it just made sense for us to open a place of our own,” adds Mattias.

Leaving the network of friends they established up north was difficult, Joe tells me, and I wonder if he had a plan—an inkling to what Richmonders wanted to eat, not having grown up here himself.

“I really believe that people are looking for food that is not too intimidating and handled with care. We make just about everything in house and having value-added product is very important to me. I keep in mind that we're here to make people happy.”

As I tuck into a spectacular dish of red snapper collar, I can report happiness is an immediate condition. The care that Joe mentions extends beyond folks dining at Heritage: they regularly host and collaborate with other restaurants on benefits and are heavily involved in local charity work.

I ask Emilia why she thinks Richmonders are taking to Heritage with such zeal. “It’s a place where you know you can consistently get great food; friendly, intelligent service; quality crafted cocktails in a casual setting. You can pop in and not have to be too serious.”

Cocktail menu at Heritage. Photo by Nicole Lang.

Mattias is quick to note the collective support of the RVA restaurant community. “It's great being in a place where people work together to promote the whole scene, rather than just themselves.  I love this city.”