I have been happily married for eight years this fall. We were such babies back then, it now seems. Still, certain moments feel like they occurred just yesterday.
I can still taste the red wine and warm olives that my husband and I enjoyed one afternoon on the getaway we took after our wedding. Possibly my favorite memory from our honeymoon was turning a corner on a tight, medieval street in Florence, Italy to stumble on a tucked-away wine bar. It was an odd time of day for a meal, but we were hungry and tired (wedding festivities and jet lag had thrown us for a loop). Europeans are notoriously good at taking time off for employee rest, and shops are often shut for an hour or two in the middle of the day, so I remember walking aimlessly looking for a place that was open to grab a casual snack.
And then just as we were about to venture back to the hotel, we saw an open door. I can remember the atmosphere, the smell of old bricks and dusty bottles. I remember peering through the green-painted window panes as couples strolled and men in floral ties on bicycles whizzed past. The owner was there behind the worn wood bar serving wine and cheese platters. The snacks were delicious, the atmosphere engaging, the space organically beautiful with original masonry, tall ceilings and light through large windows on three sides. There was a sense of satisfaction that we’d discovered a hidden gem. For a moment, we felt like locals.
I’d imagine that a visitor to Bakersfield might have the same experience when stumbling upon the alley entrance through a rolled up garage door into the tucked away local vegan restaurant, market and food purveyor, Hen’s Roost. The items are carefully curated, the space raw and industrial, food inventive and fresh. Whenever I visit, it’s always a delicious experience all around.
And while not exactly what one might consider a food hall, Hen’s Roost taps into this national trend.
Americans have fallen hard for fancy food halls in recent years. (Some of my personal favorites include L.A.’s Grand Central Market, New Orleans’ Auction House Market and San Francisco’s Ferry Building.) They are quite different from historic public markets, like the expansive, strikingly authentic Central Market Hall I visited in Budapest, which offers everything from freshly butchered meats to paprika and pastries. Fancy food halls also feel dramatically different than the fluorescent-lit, basement food courts I grew up visiting in shopping malls.
The modern-day food hall, while quite unique, is a convergence of these two classics: a food court and old public market. Locally, Hen’s Roost market has many of the same elements that attract folks to food halls and plays to the strengths of this model in an authentically Bakersfield way with carefully curated items, a target demographic and edgy-cool ambiance.
Hen’s Roost owner, Jaclyn Allen, is also a catalyst for the expansion of local food-service, produce and retail businesses in town. Hen’s Roost manages the Brimhall and Haggin Oaks outdoor farmers markets. The effort helps test and nurture talent, which is also an important and fascinating role of the food halls nationally. A food hall can serve as an incubator or a refuge for aspiring chefs and vendors. There are plenty of stories of now-famous chefs getting their start at food halls. Locally, shops like Soapterra and Rig City Roasting Co. started with a stall at her weekly market and grew to brick-and-mortar locations.
The permanent Hen’s Roost restaurant has existed at 1916 G St. for more than two years but recently renovated to allow for more lunchtime seating and and an expanded menu. The shop’s hours have been extended as well. Hen’s Roost is bringing Kern County farmers and vendors one would normally see at a farmers market to downtown Bakersfield.
With the upscale food hall concept’s popularity across the country, there has been talk among business ventures to open a local version with multiple vendors in warehouse spaces downtown. Nothing has materialized quite yet, but it’s a trend that is clearly well on its way to Bakersfield.