Food Dude: Cafe Evoke under new (very busy) ownership
Cafe Evoke's new owners Robert and Lori Black spent 2019 examining practically every corner of the hospitality industry, and are happy to have time to sit down and enjoy a cup of coffee these days.
The couple purchased Cafe Evoke late last fall from founders Jason and Jenni Duncan, who started the business on wheels in 2005 before landing the coffee cathedral in downtown Edmond in 2012. Jason remains Evoke’s chief curator, responsible for maintaining a program rooted in Middle State Coffees and Steven Smith teas.
On-the-job training has been more intense for Lori, who is currently learning to become a barista.
“I’m getting better at it,” she said as she crafted a Cappuccino.
While Lori is learning a new skill, Robert, a classically trained chef who graduated from The Coach House Apprenticeship Program, is learning to say no.
Among the very difficult things he's had to say it to was continuing with El Guate, the concept he opened with chef Chris McCabe in Parlor OKC.
"It was a fun albeit short project,” he said.
Black said conditions in the 405 diningsphere are over-saturated, but added there are issues that will have to be worked out going forward with food halls.
"Right now, the business models are being dictated by real estate developers," Black said. "Restaurants have a unique business model."
One, he continued, that relies on the ability to operate on low margins, specifically the first couple of years.
"Restaurants are a high-risk investment anyway," he said. "There's going to be a learning curve for other industries that want to get involved in hospitality for the long term."
Black said he would absolutely return to Parlor OKC with another concept in the future.
“Right now, it’s a matter of a different industry trying to learn the rhythm of another,” he said.
Parlor OKC has lost two concepts since it opened in late summer, but will fill one of the vacancies with a local barbecue concept. Smoked Out Barbecue is scheduled to arrive in March. It currently operates at 6220 NW Expressway.
While the Blacks are moving on from Parlor, they’ve got plenty to keep them busy between Cafe Evoke and their Spring Board consulting company, which spent much of 2019 helping a variety of clients either open, refresh or rescue their restaurant concepts. This year, they're tending to their new coffee shop and taking on far fewer clients.
"Last year, we didn't take a vacation,” Black said. “This year, we've got vacations booked on the calendar and we are building our work schedule around them."
The Blacks took over Evoke in October, right around the time The Mule opened across the street. Edmond Railyard has gradually blossomed since then, too. By the end of spring, the historic strip of downtown will add Frenzy Brewing Company.
In the meantime, Robert is working on a new menu roll-out.
“We’ve got some great items for breakfast and lunch,” he said. “But when you look at the menu, you see a disparity in lunch options so I’d like to balance that out.”
When I was in we sampled the Baked Eggs, Smoked Salmon Toast, Sunny Side Egg brunch toast and a Sweet Berry Yogurt Bowl. The toasts were served on hand-crafted boards created by Robert in his woodworking shop. Don’t ask him for any custom jobs this year. He’s not retired, he’s just not taking on a lot of new business. He said he still spends time in the workshop, but right now he’s telling people who ask to “check what he’s got in inventory.”
Once Robert gets the new menu settled, and Lori might start looking at Evoke for special events and special dinners. When they do, I’ll have the details.
Cafe Evoke is open 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. daily, click here for more details.
Black History Month Spotlight: Gumbo
For this week's Black History Month spotlight, instead of any individual, I wanted to concentrate on a dish. Mardi Gras is Tuesday, and all across the Louisiana Bayou the gumbo will flow. Well, it always flows in The Bayou, and we've got plenty of folks around here who's name ends in "eaux." Some of the best gumbo you'll find in the 405 diningscape come from chefs Corey Harris and DeWayne Johnson. These two chefs are writing the culinary chapters of tomorrow's black history when it's told in these parts.
Johnson owns Brielle's Bistro, 9205 NE 23 St. and Magnolia Bistro, 722 N Broadway Ave., No. 100; with his wife Kaylee Owen. The former is named for their daughter Brielle, and it's been drawing long lines since it opened in Midwest City back in 2018. Late last year, they added Magnolia in the former Fit Pig space, around the corner from Cultivar. You'll find a great bowl of gumbo at either place, plus plenty of other Cajun or Creole items for the season.
You'll find chef Corey Harris's signature gumbo at either of his two Off the Hook Seafood & More two locations (125 W Britton Rd.; 1920 S Meridian Ave.). Corey lit the local culinary world on fire last year with appearances on a couple of Food Network shows, adding flame to his Sriracha-hot career path. The entrepreneur has also created Dope Foods, which produces cannabis-infused snacks, and while he might not be a professional rapper, he's a ranked amateur. Just as Johnson partners with Kaylee to operate a pair of restaurants, Harris and his wife Loneisha oversee the growing OTH empire.
Come Tuesday, arrive early at any of those four spots to let the good times roll.
On my way back from visiting Cafe Evoke and Edmond Railyard, I stumbled upon Los 3 Tapatios, 630 S Broadway. This new taqueria recently opened in what once was a Long John Silver's location. This is not an Anglicized gourmet taqueria, it's family-owned and serves a more traditional menu. I tried three tacos: carnitas, al pastor and cabeza. The highlight was the cabeza, which can mean a variety of things at a taqueria. At this place, it meant cheek meat (sigh). Get it, you'll love it. The carnitas and tacos al pastor were also very promising, and clocked in at a grand total of 7 bucks! That's right, I added a drink and ate lunch for under $10. And there's a drive-through. Hurry, kids ...
... Rococo is hosting a special plant-based dinner on Thursday at 7 p.m.. Chef Bruce Rinehart will serve a special four-course dinner at the Penn location with wine pairings provided by Premium Brands Wine & Spirits. Cost is $48 per person plus tax and gratuity. For reservations, call 528-2824.
… Museum Cafe, 415 Couch Dr., announced new hours, which do not include dinner service. Dinner might be gone, but brunch service continues. New hours are 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Monday through Friday and 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday and Sunday. ...
Expecting more major announcements this week, so check back often. ...