This is One Year In, a feature in which Eater sits down for a chat with the chefs and owners of restaurants celebrating their one year anniversary.
When Bolsa first exploded into Oak Cliff back in 2008, the original concept involved a mini-market where patrons could pick up everything from fresh flowers to locally made chocolates. Bolsa, of course, turned out to be a smash success, and the market was eventually pushed out in favor of more space for diners.
Fast forward to last December, when Bolsa Mercado opened just a few doors down. Not intended to compete with the mega-marts like Whole Foods or Central Market, Mercado instead focused on filling a niche in the neighborhood. Residents can come in and grab a ham and apple butter kolache and a cup of coffee for breakfast, or maybe sit down and linger over a pastrami sandwich (with meat that's cured in-house, of course). Need a nice bottle of wine and some duck confit for a night in? They've got that covered, too. There's also three course take-out meals available nightly, often prepared by a guest chef (anyone from The Grape's Brian Luscher to Jack Perkins of Maple & Motor), not to mention the multi-course, family-style dinners by Bolsa chef Jeff Harris, served at the long communal table.
What exactly made you guys decide to turn the mini-market at Bolsa into a whole concept of its own?
A couple of things. One, the size of Bolsa's kitchen—it's just so small, and keeping up with the volume can be really difficult. So the expansion into Mercado allowed us to have a lot more storage room and prep room and have a little of an easier time. The market side of it is just kind of flushing out what we set out to do with the market at Bolsa. I think it's something that the area needed. It's probably going to be a while before we have a full-on grocer or anything like that, so just living down here I know the challenge of finding anything healthy to go outside of just going into a restaurant and buying dinner to go. So this gives people somewhere to just grab something quick and easy and take it home. And we don't have a Starbucks down here, so we wanted to do a little bit of a coffee shop aspect with it as well. Then the catering, we've always had a lot of requests to cater events and the Mercado kitchen actually enables us to deliver on those requests and keep everything as organic and local and seasonal as possible.
Has the concept of the Mercado stuck pretty closely to the original plan, or has it evolved over the past year?
I think it's stuck pretty close to the original concept, but it's always a work in progress. It's definitely a learning experience, it's something totally different than a restaurant. It's nothing like it, the margins are different, the prep times are different, just everything's different about it.
Were you guys pretty well-received by the neighborhood from the get-go, or did it take a while for word to spread?
I'd say we were pretty well-received by the neighborhood because of the following that we do have at Bolsa, and through social media and Facebook and the press we were able to get the word out pretty quickly. As far as people getting in here and having them kind of understand what it is, that's another story, that took a little bit longer, so that's definitely grown.
What would you say are the can't-miss items that new customers should definitely check out?
The turkey sandwich has been very, very well-received, all kinds of awards and everybody loves it. By itself, it out-sells all the other sandwiches put together. And then our fresh-pressed juices, I'd say either of those are must-haves.
So between the breakfast and lunch options, coffee, the take-out dinners for two, and then the special dinners by Chef Harris, you guys are really doing a lot with the space. What else can we expect from you guys in the future?
Definitely the catering is a side of it that you probably don't hear about it, but it's definitely going to be the biggest focus of growth for us. We just got a couple of contracts with some venues to be their exclusive caterer, so we'll definitely take on more of that. Definitely more prepared foods, kind of trying to fill out what we already do, and more coffee stuff as well, we're trying to improve on that.