By Pete Dulin
The relationship between home and food suggests many different associations, such as simple comfort, cultural pride, or a tradition spanning generations. At Hemma Hemma in Waldo, owner and chef Ashley Bare draws on the connection between home and food in appetizing ways. She chose the Swedish word hemma to name her eatery concept. The term conveys a sense of home, community, and gathering around the table. Hemma Hemma distills that spirit into its essence, where guests may shop for prepared foods to take home, dine at the eatery, and schedule meal delivery with orders brought to your doorstep.
Conceptually and in practice, Hemma Hemma serves as a culinary home for Bare. It’s a grounded space that enables Bare to concentrate and apply her ideas, culinary training, Chinese-American upbringing, and extensive professional cooking experience. She worked many years as a private chef and cooking instructor in New York and her hometown of Kansas City. Years of off-site catering and private events involved laborious time and effort to “schlep” equipment and food to a location, Bare explains. Now she has a base of operations to cook, host, teach, and serve.
“I wanted somewhere that people could come to me. When the space became available, I liked the location in a historic neighborhood. My existing clientele lives nearby. I hope to create a place where people want to be,” Bare says.
Located in the former District Pour House, Hemma Hemma presents a complete makeover of the space. The eatery’s look and feel is inspired by Bare’s travels to Sweden and other destinations as well as her affinity for interior design. She worked with Midwest & Co., known for residential makeovers, to realize her distinct functional and aesthetic vision for the commercial space.
“The theme developed naturally. It’s a culmination of a lot of things I’ve done that I wanted to come to fruition, from teaching cooking classes to meal preparation. I wanted Hemma Hemma to feel like home, a place where people feel comfortable and connect to the space. Each room has a slightly different feel,” Bare says.
Bold floral arrangements and wallpaper, savvy use of materials, an upbeat blue color scheme, and exposed brick create a warm, stylishly-appointed setting. Take a moment to allow the eye to wander and discover cute curios and furnishings. Relax on comfy couches, chairs, and banquette seating outfitted in tasteful fabrics, patterns, textures, and pillows worthy of magazine spread or, at least, Instagram. Makes you feel, well, relaxed in a home away from home.
Hemma Hemma’s interior is divided into three sections. Just inside the front door to the left, The Bodega is a grab-and-go marketplace where you can order coffee, sweet and savory pastries, and also choose prepared foods and drinks from the refrigerated case. Options range from house-made breakfast burritos to soups, salads, and sandwiches. The rotation of entrees range from an Asian-influenced steak noodle salad to stuffed poblanos to pickle brined fried chicken.
Next to the main dining room, a cafeteria-style section offers daily hot dishes and staple items for breakfast and lunch. Spacious seating provides a view of the open kitchen where made-from-scratch cooking and baking unfolds.
The Studio features marble-topped stations and seating for guests to gather, participate, and learn in cooking classes and events. Bare, a culinary instructor since 2013, and Amy Beaman, a pastry chef with 14 years of experience, focus on fun interactive experiences rather than hardcore procedural cooking courses. Class fees include instruction, in-house dining, and printed recipes so guests may replicate the magic at home.
“You’ll learn a little and make new friends,” Bare says.
Bare’s approach to cooking emphasizes a healthful, sustainable way to prepare food and eat.
Food-wise, guests experience dishes that update familiar dishes with lesser-known ingredients in fresh, inventive presentations. For instance, Bare’s miso chicken meatballs incorporate a savory Japanese seasoning with a comfort food common to many cultures. A layer of mildly spiced chorizo adds swagger to a sliced croissant in the pastry case.
“The menu changes with the seasons. Variety is important to keep new and fresh items in The Bodega to keep people coming back,” Bare says. “I like to surprise people with new combinations. It’s anti-authentic.”
Rather than present a specific dish that’s true to a particular culture, Bare eschews the pursuit of “authenticity.” It’s a loaded term that means different things to different people.
Instead, she prefers to “get people thinking about how we pair ingredients” while also preparing foods that are still “approachable.” In other words, her prepared foods are not weird or offbeat for the sake of novelty or social media metrics. Instead, Bare’s thoughtful use of an ingredient balances inventiveness with respect for the food and sensory appeal.
“I want people to recognize what the food is, but maybe be introduced to a new ingredient,” Bare says.
Pre-ordered pastry boxes, “fill your fridge” meal delivery, class registration, and private event booking are available online at Hemma Hemma’s website. Downstairs at Hemma Hemma features The Den, a “basement event space that feels like a cool, old school, retro living room den” available for booking.
Hemma Hemma is located at 7122 Wornall Rd. Hours are Monday – Saturday 8 am to 6 pm.