I learned something immediately upon meeting Chef Mike Ledesma at his new restaurant, Perch, nestled between the breweries and barcades of Scott’s Addition on a laid-back Wednesday night: the guy is constantly hustling. As we walked through the main dining room, with plush upholstered chairs drenched in a deep tropical blue, past the restaurant's bustling open kitchen, he greeted patrons and staff as they prepared for dinner service. When we sat down to chat, Ledesma peered over my shoulder through a giant plate glass window with a panoramic back-of-house view. “I’m just watching a little bit, I’m sorry,” he apologized to me, then toggled a button on his iPhone. Suddenly, the window frosted over and became opaque. He smiled and revealed his trick: “It’s an LCD screen I control from my phone.”
Design elements that enhance guest experience, like that LCD window which transformed the back room into a soundproof private dining area, were top of mind for Ledesma when he began laying out his concept for Perch. “It’s about the guest experience. When you walk through the 11-foot door, you only get one time to make a first impression,” he quipped. Once he acquired the old Joy Garden space on Broad Street, he and his design team transformed the dark, low-ceilinged former Chinese restaurant into a bright, open, fine dining establishment.
“How does it feel to sit in the dining room?” Ledesma asked himself. “I wanted it to feel like you wanted to be there.” He incorporated sleek, modern features that still somehow feel cozy due to warm colors and plush interiors. “It’s the lighting, it’s the furniture, it’s the colors, it’s the redesign of the building,” he explained. “We took the papers and kept on drawing until we could execute it.”
The construction phase lasted 14 months, although Ledesma joked that Perch has actually been 18 years in the making. As a young man, he was a successful stockbroker with a career in finance, until suddenly he began to question why he’d started on that path in the first place. “I wanted to just have fun,” he said of his decision to change careers. “If I’m going to do something for 20 years, I’m going to have a lot of fun doing it.” So he jumped ship and dove into the fast-paced world of food and hospitality, never looking back.
Ledesma had a later start to his culinary career than most chefs, and as such, he had to play a bit of catch up. “I worked 18 to 20 hour days,” he told me. He shucked oysters and made crab dip in Maryland, trained with Japanese chefs in Hawaii, and mastered French-inspired Southern cuisine at the Greenbrier. “I did it,” he said, laughing. “I pulled it off and I’m not stopping. I don’t think my body can stop.”
In September, all that hard work paid off as Perch opened its doors. “I thought it would taper down,” Ledesma said, referring to the rapid stream of customers that descended upon Perch shortly after its opening, but business has only grown over the past few months as word has spread about the new restaurant. “I think social media has made Richmond smaller. If you’re popular and you’re putting out a good product, someone finds out,” he reasoned.
“Perch is a dream,” Ledesma said, brought to fruition by taking the best parts of what he’s learned from working in the restaurant industry over the years and molding those elements to fit his vision of hospitality. That includes the menu, which combines culinary aspects from his time in Maryland, Hawaii, and West Virginia.
“The food is a culmination of all the things,” Ledesma explained. “Being born in Brooklyn, I have a little bit of a New York taste. It’s very multicultural. Training in Hawaii, I learned a lot from the Japanese chefs. At the Greenbriar, it was classic French with American and Southern. So you get this Filipino kid with Pan-Asian training learning all this French stuff then going back to Baltimore and cooking crab cakes and seafood and having a Filipino background of acid and sour and spicy.” Ledesma’s unique take on Pan-Asian food flip-flops flavor profiles and techniques to curate an eclectic yet unified menu.
As for the future, Ledesma sees himself continuing to stoke the embers of his culinary imagination at Perch, settling into the neighborhood to stay a good long while. As Perch shares a parking lot with another new Scott’s Addition restaurant, Bingo, he says they are already collaborating on ideas for beer gardens and block parties for when the weather gets nice.
“We’re all different and we stand stronger together,” he says. Then he repeats one more time as if he can’t quite believe his luck, “It’s a dream come true.”
Photography by Madison Earls