POQUOSON—Blue Crab & Purple Pig Bistro Chef and Owner Barry Wildman has closed his doors to regular restaurant traffic and is opening the space to catering, cooking classes, wine dinners, and special events. The decision was made after a series of pandemic-driven events made it difficult for the restaurant to remain profitable.
“It’s been a challenging year,” said Wildman in a recent interview. “Every time it seemed like we had a foothold, the next boulder would roll down the hill. I thought we had it timed quite well to open when the covid vaccine became available. And we started out strong. Then the Delta variant hit. When that first started, we dropped 40 percent of our business in one week. Then there was the Omicron variant. Then supply chain issues, increased food prices, and increased labor costs. We could have overcome any one of these issues separately but putting them all together made it impossible financially to continue as a restaurant.”
Fear not though. The restaurant’s doors are not closing permanently. Wildman will hold cooking classes at the facility at least twice a month and wine dinners at least once a month, plus offering catering services for private events.
“I just built a beautiful patio that can seat up to 110 people,” said Wildman. “There’s an herb garden that goes all around and I have grapes growing behind the bar. I just need to finish the fire pit and the space will be incredible for classes and events.”
Streamlining the business will help considerably with current costs.
“If I cater and bring in private contractors for events, I’ll really be able to cut my overhead,” said Wildman. “I won’t have to have to run my ovens non-stop. I won’t have to have every cooler on because all my prep work is in there. I won’t have to order a bunch of food wondering what people are going to order tonight. With catering, you order exactly what you need, which streamlines and simplifies things. That’s really beneficial in tough economic times like now.”
Wildman’s first wine event after the restaurant closure will be on August 5.
“We’ve been doing wine dinners all along once a month and they sell out every time,” said Wildman. “It’s a five-course dinner matched with five different wines.” According to Wildman, there will be different themes for each wine dinner that may feature a variety of Italian or French wines, wines from different regions of a particular country.
The first cooking class will probably happen sometime during the second week of August.
“I think it’s going to be a lot of fun and that’s the first time I’ve been able to say that in a while,” said Wildman. “My mind is going crazy with potential topics—cooking with a sense of place, cooking with fresh herbs, etc. Having a beautiful herb garden and being able to go over and cut fresh herbs while I’m doing the demonstration is going to be amazing.”
In the meantime, Wildman will continue to accept catering jobs. In the first four days after announcing the restaurant closure, he already had four large catering jobs booked, one of which is for a Christmas party.
“It’s something I can develop and nurture and not be overwhelmed by the day-to-day things that happen in the restaurant business,” said Wildman. “By streamlining, I can get back to what I really love, and that’s cooking.”
Wildman’s wife and business partner, Mundia, is also going to be more involved with the transition. She and Wildman met when she was publishing a food and wine blog, so she will be using her social media skills to help create a series of YouTube videos on cooking demonstrations.
“Crab season just started, so I might go out on a crab boat, take some video of me out there, then come back and make crab cakes,” he said. “My wife will be doing this with me, and I think the two of us are going to be able to do something really dynamic.”
Wildman stresses that the transition is not a bad thing and the restaurant will still be well utilized.
“Everybody on my Facebook page is posting that they are sorry the restaurant is closing, like they are at a funeral or something,” said Wildman. “But it’s not a funeral. It’s a transition based on what’s happening in the world right now. This is not a failing. It’s a realization and transition into something that makes more sense right now.”
For additional information about upcoming classes, check Blue Crab Purple Pig’s Facebook page.