HAMPTON, Va. - The bar seats are still gone and, in a line of booths, every other one is closed to help maintain social distancing.
All this during Venture Kitchen & Bar's normally busy winter.
"It's been a stressful year. We're pretty sure we can make it through," says Carlyle Bland, who opened Venture eight years ago and owns two other restaurants on this block of Queen Street.
Despite the pressures of a pandemic, Venture has continued to push out pizza after pizza in Downtown Hampton. All are ten inches and Neapolitan-style. He says some of the more popular include the classic Margherita, Meat Lovers and the Everybody's, which swaps traditional sauce with pesto and is topped with bacon and artichoke.
"It's a thinner crust cooked at a higher temperature," said Bland. "We've been very successful with it."
Bland had already owned Marker 20 down the street for a decade when the historic space Venture currently occupies opened up.
"The space became available and my wife loved the brick walls. We're trying to design a menu and she said, 'I want tapas and pizza.' I'm like, 'Okay, we're going to do a tapas and pizza restaurant,'" he recalled.
In 2017, Bland added Brown Chicken Brown Cow to his list of properties and by the time the pandemic hit, he had 100 employees between his three restaurants.
"That was over a hundred jobs. I didn't what was going to happen to them," he said. "My wife has done a really good job in terms of (getting money from) government programs. It's enough to keep us alive."
With the COVID-19 vaccine rollout underway, he says he's hoping this coming summer will be a little more like normal.
Another reason for excitement is the construction project across the street, he says.
"We've got a big development going in across the street that we're looking forward to, about 150 units, very high-end," Bland told News 3. "There's a lot of progress, a lot of people have worked a long time to get downtown to where it is and now it's starting to take off."
The way this longtime business owner sees it, the more people come to Downtown Hampton, the more delicious pizza Venture Kitchen & Bar can sell.