Joseph Leslie Hoggard, a restaurateur who helped bring fine dining to southeastern Virginia in the 1970s and 1980s, died August 27, 2023, at a hospital in Norfolk. He was 79.
From 1967 to 2000 he owned Ships Cabin restaurant in Norfolk’s East Ocean View, where he earned a reputation as an innovator with food, wine and wait staff service. He was involved as owner and manager in other restaurant projects, but none provided him with the renown that he enjoyed from his Ships Cabin years.
He lived for periods in France and Mexico after 2000, and it was in Mexico almost a decade ago that he suffered the stroke that led to paralysis and rehabilitative care. Still, he was often seen out and about in Hampton Roads, especially at music concerts, in his motorized chair and he received many friends at his bedside. His daughter, Tanya Hoggard, a flight attendant who lives in Cincinnati, said, “Joe was upbeat in his last days, talking to friends. He was in a great space mentally, and he got his biggest wish, to die peacefully without pain.”
Ships Cabin, under Joe’s ownership, was on the Chesapeake Bay and specialized in seafood, but it became so much more than the fish camp type establishment that it might have been. Joe’s father, Leslie Coleman hoggard, had run a hot dog shack there before he died.
The dish Joe’s Ships Cabin kitchen was best known for was Oysters Bingo, which he created for Norfolk lawyer and politician Frederick “Bingo” Stant. There are many different recipes for oysters bingo on the internet, most crediting Ships Cabin as originating the dish. When Joe himself supervised the making in the Lake Taylor Transitional Care Hospital kitchen a few years ago, fresh shucked oysters were dredged in seasoned flour, fried in neutral oil, put back in the half-shell and drizzled with a simmering sauce of sautéed shallots, oyster liqueur, white wine and minced parsley.
Joe acknowledged in media interviews over the years that the food and drink and ambiance at the restaurant could be credited to his travels in the United States and Europe. “I brought the culinary world to Norfolk,” he once said. In the late 1960s the legendary wine importer Peter Sichel visited Ships Cabin and encouraged Joe to visit his facility in Bordeaux, which Joe soon did. “We were treated well and tasted a number of wines and then taken to a seafood restaurant. I thought this was a cool thing to do and decided I liked being treated well by wine folks.”
A few years later he took a restaurant association sponsored trip to Napa and began a two-decade habit of socializing there with wine people with names such as Mondavi, Cakebread, Duckhorn and Shafer. He also frequented Napa dining establishments such as Mustards and The French Laundry. He loved to tell the story of a food and wine festival he attended out West, toting about 10 pounds of Chesapeake Bay lump crab for a chef who wanted to use it in a demonstration dinner. As it turned out, the chef couldn’t show and famed France-based cookbook author Patricia Wells stepped in to use the crab in dishes she prepared at the festival. The next time Joe saw Wells in Paris, she greeted him as “the crab man.”
Joe cherished an old photo taken in California of himself flanked by Wells and Julia Child.
A Paris businessman, Maurice Bensoussan, and his wife Juliette, dined at Ships Cabin in the late 1980s during a trip down the Atlantic Coast. They loved the wine talk with Joe about the differences between Virginia and California wine, and later invited Joe to visit them in Paris. He did, starting a regular transatlantic life for him that lasted for many years. Bensoussan went on to write four books on culinary topics, including one seeking to explain United States wine to the French. Joe went on to learn enough French to manage dinner table conversation.
In 2012, Joe decided to move to Mexico and begin another chapter in his life. He lived first in Ajijic and later in San Miguel de Allende. He earned a certificate that would allow him to teach English. He told The Virginian-Pilot a few years ago that teaching English wasn’t too different from running the Ships Cabin. “This is what I’ve been doing all my life. I just had this passion for making people happy and training staff to do the same.”
Joe is survived by his daughter, a sister, Janet Blocker, and many loving cousins.