Interior designers parlay food truck success into Richland delicatessen
Roberta Chalaris-Davis and Marina de Albuquerque have an eye for design, and they’ve branched out from interior spaces to designing artisanal charcuterie boards and home décor at a storefront in Richland’s Parkway.
Set to open in June, just in time for the return of the Richland Farmers Market, ROMA House will bring unique delicatessen offerings, boutique wines, gourmet groceries and fine gifts to the south end of the walkable Richland retail district.
“I look at food as another extension of art. It’s great taste, great combinations and some fun,” said Chalaris-Davis during a tour of 617 The Parkway, where construction is going at a quick clip to finish the “home entertainer’s store” in time for summer. ROMA House is located in the former storefront of Ariel Gourmet & Gifts, which closed in 2021, and Hotoveli Boutique, which recently moved into the smaller space next door.
“Food has people interacting, and that’s one of my favorite things: people, food and wine – not necessarily in that order,” she joked.
Making it very clear this is “not a restaurant,” the delicatessen will offer charcuterie boards to go or to share at a table, with seating offered for just 12. Local beer and wine will be on tap, and down the road, a meeting and event space is planned for ROMA House for outside bookings or demonstration classes.
The women will feature a wall of appetizer boards at a variety of price points that can be bought alone, or filled.
Gourmet groceries, like olive oil, flavored vinegar and French candies, plus tablescapes and other interior décor, also will be for sale, with all food offered for tasting available to take home, including cheese by the quarter pound.
“If you like an olive you try, you can buy them to take home,” Chalaris-Davis said. “Or if you like the candles and linens, you can whip up a table setting.”
Their pièce de résistance may be a decorative corner spot, ideal for snapping selfies for social media – and a clever way to promote the store.
Roberta + Marina = ROMA
The women worked together for a custom homebuilder in the area before they decided to go out on their own a few years back, combining the first letters of their first names to call their ventures ROMA Visionaries.
“It’s really kind of cute when people figure out, ‘Oh it’s your names,’ ” Chalaris-Davis laughed.
At the start of 2020, they decided on their next visionary project, a food truck, drawing on Chalaris-Davis’ prior experience owning a catering company.
“I remember taking a friend to a winery for her birthday, and when I called ahead, the only food offered for purchase was hot dogs or tacos, so I asked if I could bring snacks and desserts for our table, and they said, ‘Yeah, sure.’ ”
Chalaris-Davis recalled setting out a spread so inviting that other winery customers kept coming to the table asking where to find food like that.
“We were laughing cause it’s like, ‘We’re the VIP table,’ but it’s what I’ve always done, and it’s what Marina has always done,” she said.
And with that, an idea was born, and the women started pursuing the purchase of a trailer to make appearances at local wineries, debuting ROMA Charcuterie in fall 2021.
Despite getting going during the pandemic, the food truck took off and the designers-turned-food-artists quickly had bookings throughout the region, including in Walla Walla and Cle Elum.
Wineries would request they set up on weekends, say for fall crush or spring barrel, to offer meats and cheeses for purchase by winery customers. Suncadia brought the trailer to its resort at a set cost for its guests to sample at a hosted event.
“The grazing stations have been so popular at the holidays, but we don’t just go in and drop food on a table,” Chalaris-Davis said. “We bring the whole setup. We had a Halloween grazing station with skeleton hands, so whatever your theme is, and because we’re designers, we can do it.”
Since ROMA Charcuterie has been so successful, the women were ready to take the next leap.
“We know there’s sophistication here, and we want to be part of it,” Chalaris-Davis said. “We want to be part of the revitalization of this area.”
She grew up in Southern California and de Albuquerque hails from Brazil. “We’ve seen bigger cities and watched them evolve, and we see that happening here.”
While several charcuterie-focused businesses have opened locally in recent years, the women remain confident there’s room for everybody in the market.
They plan to focus on imported offerings you can’t find elsewhere.
“The design side comes easy to us, making things beautiful; it’s the sourcing we’re working on,” said Chalaris-Davis, who just returned from a trip to Italy focused on finding new culinary delights that could be routinely shipped to the Tri-Cities.
They expect people to stop by ROMA House during their lunch hour, for a nibble before a Richland Players performance, or maybe to share a cheese board prior to heading to dinner at nearby Moniker.
They plan to have a range of unique offerings, similar to a paid wine tasting, with a price point for two people between $30-$35.
“We hope people will go outside their comfort zone. We want them to try patés, different olives and Spanish cheeses,” Chalaris-Davis said. “We’re foodies; we just love pairing things and so we want to bring something different in a space that people feel good about coming to.”
The women plan to continue with ROMA Design Services serving residential and commercial clients, working with custom homebuilders and on remodels. They once styled a large wedding.
At the start, they plan to operate ROMA House themselves, but their future vision depends on who you talk to. “Marina thinks nobody for six months, and I think we’ll need two people in six weeks,” said Chalaris-Davis.
They’ve also found a natural fit in hosting charcuterie design classes, with plans these could one day be held within ROMA House when it’s cost effective to build out the remaining storage space.
“We truly love people,” Chalaris-Davis said. “And that is what this is about. It’s about bringing something new to the people and teaching. And this will be a learning experience for anyone just coming in.”
“Don’t be afraid,” de Albuquerque added. “I want people to come in and feel comfortable, not feeling timid. We want to welcome everybody, and, honestly, even if you don’t want to buy something, just come in and see us and see what we’re doing. Taste a piece of cheese.”
A ribbon-cutting ceremony for ROMA House is planned for Friday, June 9, but the shop owners hope to open their doors prior to that.
Tentative hours to start will be 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday through Saturday.