Legal pads in hand, the Snyders boarded a plane for Chicago, Il., to attend the National Restaurant Association Food Show. It was on that ride that the two food-business veterans pulled together their big idea for a restaurant start-up that evolved into what is now Urban Cookhouse, a Homewood fresh-farm eatery.
“We brainstormed on the way up there,” Andrea says. “We just wrote out the menu and what we thought we needed. When we got to the convention, we knew what we were looking for.”
“[The convention] is kind of like Sam’s Clubs on a Saturday where they give all those free samples out, but times 200,” David says. “It was fun spending time there. We got a lot of ideas.”
When the Snyders returned to Birmingham, they got busy—sketching out plans for a partially seasonal menu and researching local distributors—and their hard work is about to pay off. Urban Cookhouse is set to open on the evening of Friday, June 7.
And the Snyders have already been active in the community. They partnered with the Homewood Chamber of Commerce to start a farmer’s market. The market will make its debut on Saturday, May 15, at the corner of 29th Avenue and 18th Street South. The market will open from 7 a.m.-noon each Saturday and offer an array of fruits and vegetables from four area farms—Mon Ami Farms, Harvest Farm, Owl’s Hollow and Hollow Spring Farms.
After the debut of Urban Cookhouse, the farmer’s market will also be open from Monday through Friday, albeit on a smaller scale, on the sidewalk outside the restaurant. The inspiration was all in the family. Andrea’s Italian-immigrant grandfather was the long-time owner and operator of a meat, cheese and vegetable stand in New Jersey. In fact, on the wall at their new restaurant, the Snyders plan to hang a picture that shows Andrea’s family standing proudly outside their old establishment, called RJ Tomato.
The food industry was not just in Andrea’s genes. Mississippi-raised David is also a foodie with a taste for home-grown ingredients. Coming from a farming family, it seemed natural for him to enter the restaurant business after graduating from the University of Alabama.
After college, both he and Andrea worked for Zoe’s Kitchen. David worked as director of operations and the director of food and drink, while Andrea worked in marketing. David spent a great deal of time traveling and establishing restaurants in new markets. He was responsible for set-up, hiring and the oversight of each new location. Andrea helped Zoe’s expand its catering business. After leaving the company, David got some culinary experience with Birmingham chef Chris Hastings, while Andrea worked for and observed the start-up of Maki Fresh, a Japanese grill in Cahaba Heights.
Each of the Synders was able to gain valuable experience to equip them for the adventure of going it on their own. “I got the chance to open 12 different stores for [Zoe’s], and it kind of makes this almost too easy,” David says. “There are challenges with being a brand new concept, but at the same time, I’ve done it.”
David also used what he learned on the road to bring extra dimensions to the Urban Cookhouse menu. “I spent a lot of time in Phoenix, Dallas, Houston and Nashville, and I really combined what’s seasonally available here in Birmingham with what a lot of the more cutting-edge restaurants are doing out West,” he says.
Drawing from the freshness of Latin cuisine and the unique flavors of Southern food, David worked in a bit of his background to create each dish. Coming from a long line of barbecuers, he was sure to include an array of meats cooked slowly over wood. The idea for the restaurant name was actually a nod to the idea of a smokehouse, or a building off a main property used specifically for smoking meat. During the planning stages of Urban Cookhouse, David worked tirelessly at home to perfect each recipe, readily admitting that the concept “evolves more every day.”
“Food is the most important thing, so we got to make sure that’s right first,” Andrea says. However, the Synders feel that, once the doors are open, they are better off being with the customers. “I plan on being in there every day,” David says. “I get energy from interaction with different people. I enjoy working at a fast pace. I could never do a desk job. I don’t enjoy it. I’m opening a restaurant because it’s what I like to do, getting in there moving around and meeting people.”
Urban Cookhouse is located at 2846 18th St. South in Homewood. For more information on the restaurant and the farmer’s market, visit www.urbancookhouse.com.
Cory Bordonaro writes about food and other topics for Birmingham Weekly. Send your comments to email@example.com.