V&V Scratch Kitchen has scratched out an impressive reputation in 13 months. Its Facebook page has more than 3,800 likes and 3,900-plus followers, and is rife with rave reviews and comments. Word of mouth, apparently, has been positive as well.
The owners, Martin and Kristin Lamarche, are pleased with how their fast-casual restaurant has been received through this early juncture, in an industry where failure is all too common. Yet they are on guard against complacency and pledge to remain proactive, maybe even ramp up the intensity.
“What we see on social media is very humbling, but we don’t let this go to our heads,” said Martin, pronounced mar-teen. “We never want to be satisfied with our product.
“There is an immense sense of importance every day we open the door. Our mission is to make an excellent product. It’s not to make money.”
This East Washington couple appears to be doing both. V&V, which celebrated its first anniversary May 22, has gained visibility in a not-so-visible location – a small Union Township shopping center along Brownsville Road Extension, about a half-mile from Route 88. But it’s in close proximity to a lot of people, a short pop from Finleyville, Peters Township, Upper St. Clair, South Park and Bethel Park.
They had tried to establish their business in Washington, closer to home, but that did not work out. Yet they are gratified by how things have transpired.
“We’re in an excellent spot right where we are,” Kristin said. “It’s a nice back-road country drive, no matter where you come from.”
Essentially, Martin is the chef and kitchen manager while Kristin oversees the décor, dining area and other functions. They share accounting duties.
“He’s the big boss in the back, I’m the big boss in the front,” she said, smiling. “He runs it like the military back there, but in a good way.”
The front, arguably, is as vital to the operation as the back, as V&V is a counter-service restaurant. Customers order there, pay, take a number to identify their orders, then select a table.
Both spouses are artists, to be sure. Martin’s dish displays would likely win over the fussy judges on TV’s “Chopped.” Kristin is responsible for the spiffy, brightly lit interior. Their large menu, on a large chalkboard hanging in the middle of the dining area, is especially appealing.
V&V’s menu is diverse, including seafood, sandwiches, pastas, salads, burgers and pizzas. Everything, Martin stresses, is fresh. “We make everything here, including chips and pickles and sweet breads,” Kristin said. “The only thing in the freezer is our ice cream.”
A couple of selections are sandwiches named for their two children – Vincent and Vivien, which, the parents say, are good sellers. Oh, and the kids were the inspiration for the restaurant name.
While Kristin was a neophyte restaurateur 13 months ago, Martin was a wily veteran, a self-taught chef who began cooking at age 14. Martin, who grew up in northern Virginia, launched two restaurants in Fredericksburg, Va., with his father and brother. About 15 years later, both are still operating.
The future couple met more than a decade ago, when Kristin, a North Strabane Township native, was a flight attendant for USAir, which no longer exists. Pittsburgh was its hub.
Now they are running V&V, which is open 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday. That is an ambitious schedule for a family business that serves lunch and dinner five days with a staff of 30, while providing a catering service. But it is a truncated schedule, done to accommodate child care for an 8-year-old and 4-year-old and to limit stress on the chef.
“We had been working Sundays,” Kristin said, “but he had been working 90 hours a week and we have young kids. It was too much.”
Fridays and Saturdays, she said, are “so busy.” The couple’s Saturday routine includes a multi-course meal Chef’s Table offering to those who sign up.
They could use more space at times, and Martin is working at that. He is in talks to add the unoccupied parcel next door.
It was a good first year for V&V and the outlook is promising. Kristin Lamarche is not surprised, considering her spouse’s culinary skills.
“I know that anywhere we go, we will be successful because he is an amazing chef,” she said. Her spouse, however, refused to take full credit – and rightfully so.
“We make a great team,” he said.