Standing behind a table overflowing with apple butters, barbecue sauces, and spice mixes, Sydney Davis describes the amount of care she takes to prepare the homemade products she sells under her gastronomic girl brand, Squids Pantry. Long a fixture at the front of Northside’s Nomad Deli, Davis is building out her own line of easy and affordable staples for folks who want to eat well even when her family’s restaurant isn’t open.
Since the summer, Davis’ family has set up a tent two Sundays a month at the recently formed RVA Black Farmers Market on a grassy lot in Jackson Ward just off of Second Street. Chili oil, pumpkin butter, rice mixes, and more abound under her tent surrounded by vendors selling fresh juices, breads and garden herbs. Those who show up early enough can snag a pint of chili — vegetarian or with meat — for a cold winter day.
Davis’ journey towards forming Squids Pantry began in college when she sold homemade apple butter and blueberry barbecue sauce at markets around Norfolk to help make ends meet. In 2020 with the world turned upside down, a toddler at home and bills to pay, Davis decided to turn her knack for healthy home cooking into an official side hustle.
“What your kitchen’s been missing,” Squids Pantry’s official slogan, is especially apt for Richmond’s vegans. Davis is lactose intolerant, so she makes all of her products vegan and as natural as possible. Even her holiday hot chocolate mix relies on coconut milk powder to avoid cow products without sacrificing that creamy consistency that makes the drink so decadent.
“I try to make things that help the meals you’re making go fast but still be healthy and interesting,” Davis says. “A lot of the quick fixes from the supermarket are not as tasty or good for you because they are so full of sodium and other stuff.”
Her plan for next year is to get Squids Pantry products into local stores. Currently Davis sells her wares at the West End Farmers Market, the Black Farmers Market, and the Lakeside Farmers Market store. Folks can also grab her mulling spices and more from a shelf inside Nomad Deli at 207 W. Brookland Park Blvd.
After a few years of shifting back and forth between being a restaurant and catering due to pandemic-driven problems, Davis’ family business is finally ready to go back to their restaurant roots. Now open weekdays from 7 a.m. to 2 p.m., Nomad is aiming to reestablish itself as a pillar of one of Richmond’s most melanated business corridors.
“Northside is a little different than other parts of town because there is a strong Black business community, so it’s exciting to see us all grow together,” says Davis. “We decided to open back up because we missed cooking and missed the community. We have so many customers who come by and tell us how much they missed us, but we missed them too!”
In addition to the sandwiches, soups, and salads that have made Nomad a North Side staple since 2015, Davis and her family are readying themselves for a deluge of holiday catering orders. At just $60 for a fried turkey or a baked ham, plus $20 per person for sides and such, Nomad’s family catering packs have proven quite popular in recent years, and the New Year’s Eve package, of course, includes black-eyed peas. For those who would rather make their own mac and cheese or collards, Davis and her family also offer snack boards, dips and spreads, and rum and fruit cakes.
Whether through her own Squids Pantry brand or her family’s Nomad Deli brick-and-mortar, Davis is excited to grow alongside the community that nourishes her.
“In the last three years, there have been a lot of new people moving into the area and new faces that we haven’t been able to reach yet, but we really love the Northside community,” she says. “We’ve seen this neighborhood go through a lot of different changes, but at its core it stays consistent. You can spend your whole day on Brookland Park Boulevard enjoying a variety of great food and drink.”
To learn more about Squids Pantry, click here.