Thursday, September 24, 2020

Hen House Wine Bar Slated To Open In October in East Memphis

Posted By on Thu, Sep 24, 2020 at 1:59 PM

click to enlarge img_2125_1_.jpg

Chairs for Hen House Wine Bar, which is slated to open at the end of October in East Memphis, are now filling up the Dockery house.

They have 40 chairs in the house and more on the patio and in the garage, says Michaela Dockery, who owns the restaurant with her husband, Dr. Dee Dockery. “We look like a bunch of hoarders right now,” she says.

And, she says, “I’m just going to park in the driveway now. Hopefully, our floors will be finished in the next week or two. Things are going much faster now.”

The 2,700-square-foot restaurant is at 679 South Mendenhall Road “across the street from Gibson’s Donuts and Half Shell. Boyle Investments renovated the entire block, so it is all white brick, blue stone patios.”

Michaela, who moved to Memphis with her family as a child, originally is from California, one of eight children in a “huge Italian Catholic family.”

She met her husband, an interventional spine physician at Campbell Clinic, in Memphis. “We travel a good amount and we love food. We love wine. We always try to find really cool spots and we always do. I said, ‘Gosh, if we could only bring something like that to Memphis.’ We talked about it for so long. Finally, last summer, he came to Santa Barbara with me. He said, ‘I totally get you now.’ Just the way life there is so laid back. Everything is centered around wine, food, family. He really saw how that brings people together.”

click to enlarge Dr. Dee and Michaela Dockery
  • Dr. Dee and Michaela Dockery

They decided to open their own restaurant in Memphis. “Why don’t we just do a really cool elevated wine bar that’s not pretentious? Something really fun Memphis doesn’t have. Find a great chef. Give an experience. My language of love is serving and I love cooking for friends, hosting parties.”

The restaurant would be “kind of an extension of my living room.”

She wanted to create a warm, friendly feeling so people would say, “I’m not going to see my bartender at the Hen House, I’m going to see my friend ‘Tony’ at the bar.

“The vibe of the whole place is, once again, togetherness. There are plenty of sit-down places in Memphis, but you don’t have a lot of places where you can enjoy a really great meal and great drinks, but in a lounge environment.”

Hen House will be furnished with “couches and really comfortable chairs, low coffee tables. Just to kind of give the feel that you’re in the living room and you’re enjoying small plates and passable items. I really wanted to create something different where you’re comfortable and you’ll stay longer. You feel like you're at someone’s house, their living room, instead of out.”

As for the food, Michaela says she wanted to “marry Southern California to elevated Southern. I wanted to have some great California feel. Al fresco items. Tacos. Buffalo cauliflower. Fresh seafood.”

Southern-style food would include dishes such as shrimp and grits. And, she says, “I want to bring in some nostalgic dishes that make you feel comfortable and think about your grandparents. Bring in an incredible chicken and dumplings. On the menu you're going to see a lot of that. 

“You’re going to find your vibe on the list no matter if you’re vegan, vegetarian, or gluten free. We have something for everybody. We’re going to have a very seasonal menu. It’s very important for me to give good quality ingredients and items.”

Matthew Schweitzer is executive chef. “I could tell he was a hard worker. He had worked for some incredible restaurants in Memphis, but more than that, he had a passion to create something on his own. It was extremely exciting to be able to give that to him and let him go crazy.

“He’s been developing the menu for the past several months and it’s been really exciting to see him get to do what he’s always wanted to do in his own space.”

It’s become “a family thing” with Schweitzer working on the menu in the Dockery kitchen with their children helping, Michaela says. “I knew he was hungry and had so much potential. He’s young. And he’ll end up being a highly respected executive chef. We’re lucky we were able to start him on that journey.”

Schweizer is happy with the “connection” between himself and the Dockerys. “It doesn’t happy very often in life,” he says.

As for creating dishes in the family kitchen and getting to know the family, Schweitzer says the Dockery residence is “like my second home.

click to enlarge Matthew Schweitzer at a menu development tasting at the Dockery home.
  • Matthew Schweitzer at a menu development tasting at the Dockery home.

Michaela describes the Hen House wine list as “a unique selection of small batch wines. A boutique offering. I wanted to work with mainly smaller boutique wineries because I feel like they’re able to give so much love to their wine. And I want to bring in wines everyone wasn’t familiar with to kind of broaden everybody’s palette. We all get so used to our favorite wine and we see the same thing over and over.  And you also get the notion to have good wine you have to pay a high price. Boutique vineyards and wineries are able to give you an incredible wine experience at an inexpensive price because of the way they make everything.”

And, she says, “I collaborated with some wine makers last year to start learning about wine and I harvested with them and created the wine for this year with them. It got my feet wet. I thought, ‘This is what I want to keep doing. Yes, I love wine and being able to entertain at the Hen House, but I also want to make wine.’”

She “fell in love” with the wine-making process. “There’s so much that goes into wine, but more than anything, wine is, for me, togetherness. And it’s happy tears. It’s sad tears. It’s celebrations. It’s life. It’s death. Wine is a part of everything in so many people’s lives.

“I want to be able to sit with a group of customers and pour my wine. So, that is definitely a labor of love and a work in progress I hope to be able to present to Memphis sometime next year.”

click to enlarge MIchaela Dockery gets in step with the wine-making process in Caifornia.
  • MIchaela Dockery gets in step with the wine-making process in Caifornia.

The decor of Hen House will be very California dreamy. “When you walk in the front door, I want it to feel like you are in Santa Barbara. I want it to feel like you are someplace else. I’m bringing in a lot of my style that I know will reflect that as well as marrying in the Southern California. We’ve got a lot of white-textured walls. And we have a lot of arches. We have a lot of detail to finish. A lot of organic layering and colors. I love decorating and I love designing. It’s so much fun for me.”

Tara Engelberg of Tara Felice Interiors is her designer.

Hen House will include a private cellar. “Where folks will also be able to enjoy a private tasting or a romantic dinner.”

Michaela is especially excited about “The Bubble Room,” which she has kept secret until now. “When it came to going out for a girls’ or guys’ night, bachelorette party, or whatever, there was not a place that you could go that was not a full-blown restaurant. I wanted to be able to create that. We have a small, little space that fits about 30 to 45 people, but it’s a room of its own. The Bubble Room. You walk in and there’s all kinds of crazy decor. Black tile on the floor, pink flamingos top to bottom on walls, wallpaper. Just a really fun vibe. A total celebratory vibe.”

A good amount of The Bubble Room decor is “found items,” Michaela says. “My designer and I have worked since day one. We both love to treasure hunt. We’ve been tracking unique things for that room down to the vintage glassware. Everything is mismatched, very eclectic.

“I’m super excited about announcing that room. I think it’s going to be a ton of fun and we’re going to build a ton of memories in there.’

So, where did the name “Hen House” come from? “I was very sick for five years straight. I went through 15 surgeries. My husband, Dee, basically created my own lounge for me in our bedroom.”

The room became her “living quarters,” Michaela says. Her girlfriends helped transform the room. “They decorated. They put things up on the wall. They made a little bar area. They made me feel like everything was fun. We’d all get in my bed, have a glass of wine, talk, and hang out. It became this thing. Every time Dee came home there was always somebody there with me.”

Dee used to say, “Oh, the hens are here. The hens have gathered.”

When Michaela announced the name “Hen House” for the new restaurant, the marketing team was thrilled.

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