The Backyard promises comfort food and music behind a hardware store in Richmond
Everything felt good in Richmond – seeing cranes and shipping containers across the street while enjoying a no-frills burger that was prepared in a food truck next to a gravel lot.
The arrival of The Backyard signals the addition of another food joint outside of Richmond’s Traditional Food Halls like 23rd St., where Mexican and Central American flavors are as abundant as at Mission and Fruitvale. It’s a sign of the growth of Richmond’s artisan food and beverage scene on the outskirts of town, where small businesses like Armistice Brewing, East Brother Beer, Wild West Cider and Rocky Island Oyster Co. have all found homes, despite being relatively out of sight and off the grid.
Like many independents food businesses located in unexpected placesthe Backyard runs the risk of being overlooked (see: Black Star Pirate BBQ, the BBQ destination near Point San Pablo that recently lost his lease). But Backyard owner Emmet Kauffman, a San Francisco born and raised entrepreneur, is used to the grind and ready for the challenge.
Here’s what the painter-turned-backyard chef has to say about Richmond’s latest spot.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
ALAN CHAZARO: Congratulations on opening this month. Tell us about the Backyard and your vision for this new space.
EMMET KAUFFMAN: I want the Backyard to be a place where people feel comfortable coming and not just having to buy a burger. If you need a place to hang out with your kids and let them run around and want a few small bites, you can do that.
The menu right now is simple, tight and delicious. I focus on those hearty, number one items that people want. We have a solid breakfast menu in an industrial area. This is for your working class people. You can stop and have a breakfast sandwich with cheddar cheese, soft eggs and sausage or bacon. You can add avocado and other toppings. We also have a breakfast box which is a deconstructed breakfast sandwich, with more eggs and a hash brown.
For lunch, we currently have two solid burgers: a Santa Fe burger and the Backyard burger. We also have a BLT and a grilled cheese. We use Acme Bread from Berkeley, which is delicious. We also serve toast [the restaurant’s take on a bruschetta], and we are preparing to expand it soon. Currently, we have the margherita toast. It’s my specialty: a bruschetta with goat cheese, cherry tomatoes, garlic, basil, balsamic. It’s like a fresh pizza. We also have avocado [toast] — micro-vegetables, sautéed tomatoes, drizzle of honey. We also offer charcuterie boards – we call this a “cutting board”, since we are on Cutting Blvd. in Richmond — but only on weekends. He serves about four – a full spread with brie, salami, nuts, fruit. Something fun to share.
My dream restaurant would be like something in Barcelona. A complete dish, tapas style. Fancy breads, sandwiches. That’s the direction we’re going, and we’re just starting to settle into our capabilities.
When did your interest in cooking start?
I was born and raised in San Francisco, and I was never the best in school. My mom tried to get me into programs I could click on. She knew that I had a passion for cooking. She enrolled me in a program at Marin. They held an event at the Fillmore Jazz Festival when I was 17. I worked with chef David Lawrence at 1300 on Fillmore, and he spotted me among everyone and told me to come back the next day. He made me make sweet potato gnocchi. I was a senior in high school and he hired me to work the line on the weekends with no previous experience. That was it for me. I stayed there for three and a half years. In the meantime, my father had his house renovated and the painting contractor was looking for workers. I got a job with a painting company when I was 19 and worked both jobs, 80-90 hours a week.
How did your work as a painter complement your growth in the food industry?
I got into painting full time and started running a painting business [in San Francisco] at 19 years old. I had a ton of experience, for about three years. Then I stopped painting and worked at Alexander’s Steakhouse, which had a Michelin star at the time. I gained experience there, and then I joined the California National Guard. I focused on my military training. At 21, I created my own painting company [Kman’s Kreations] and was in the National Guard for six years. I continued to run my painting business for 10 years. COVID shook that up, and I wanted to rethink things.
I was kicked out of San Francisco. A few years ago I moved to Richmond and saw an opportunity. The Army allowed me to move to Richmond on the VA loan. I fell in love here and took the leap back to my roots and my passion for cooking. I have over 10 years of experience running a business, building employees, working with clients and customers. This is my new passion project at 31 years old. I still have time to fail (laughs). Food is the best building type. You can build it, then eat it and taste it. You can modify it. It’s an art form. It reminds me of painting in a way.
Do you still operate your painting business in San Francisco?
COVID hit, and everyone went their own way. I have continued to be self-employed for the past two years. I got a text the other day to come paint a house (laughs). I actually have a product that I invented called sprayer saver. It’s a simple product that my brother and I started. It holds your bucket at an angle so you can get all that paint when using a paint sprayer.
Is that how you ended up behind the Whale Point Marine & Hardware store?