Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Sneak Peek: Red Dessert Dive

Jessica Lusk grew up in Tomball, but with strong ties to the Heights. Her grandfather grew up here, her mother lived here until high school, and her family still owns her grandfather's Heights home. These ties make it no surprise that this community has drawn her in, this time to start a small business in Houston's most local-business-loving neighborhood.

While attending Texas A&M, where she would eventually graduate with an Environmental Design degree, Lusk left Texas to head to New York City for an architecture internship, where she fell in love with the small spaces occupied by unique businesses. So much in New York seemed "tiny and weird" compared to what she had always known in Texas, but she relished it. She returned to Texas and then stayed close to home, earning a Masters in Architecture at University of Houston.

When Lusk began her career in Houston, she soon realized that, despite her excellent education, the working environment of architecture was not where her heart was. She decided she wanted to be an entrepreneur and Stella Bakes was born. Stella Bakes, a homebaking cupcake business, was an experiment; a way for Lusk to see if she had the mettle to own her own business- to do all the work and assume all the risk. She decided she did and put together a business plan for... more work and even greater risk.

1045 Studewood, next to the new SOHO boutique
When Jessica Lusk was living in New York, one of her favorite places was the original Magnolia Bakery. Tucked in to a tiny space in the West Village, Magnolia Bakery was practically an institution the day the doors opened. Inspired by the Magnolia and encouraged by her experience with Stella Bakes, Lusk decided she wanted to own a dessert shop. Unlike both Magnolia and Stella Bakes, Lusk did not want this dessert shop to be "cute." She doesn't think that desserts, whether it's cupcakes or cheesecakes, need to always be so "girlie." She wanted something decidedly different and came up with the concept of Red, a business named for her grandmother, a "feisty redhead and amazing baker."

While the general aesthetic of Red will be very different from it's inspiration in New York, one similarity remains in Lusk's new venture: small. She knew she wanted the Heights area and she knew she wanted less than 1200 sq feet. What she has ended up with is a little sliver of Studewood, coming in at a very New York-ish 961 sq ft.

The state of 1045 Studewood 2 weeks ago, when Jessica invited me in to chat

Jessica Lusk's background in architectural design has definitely helped her dream of tiny become a big reality. Lusk did all the plans for Red herself and has plans to put every inch of the space to use. As plans developed, the concept became clear for Lusk. Red will have "classic American desserts with a twist" plus a nice selection of beer and wine. There will also be a strong coffee program from Boomtown Coffee on 19th Street. Coffee "was not am afterthought" for Lusk, and in it's final incarnation, Red be more "of a coffee shop with an emphasis on desserts" than a bakery itself.

The Fredricksburg light fixture that is dictating the interior design of Red
Red will share parking with SOHO Boutique, eeking out just enough to allow permitting for eating and drinking in house. Right now, there isn't much to see inside, but that isn't stopping Lusk from holding to a May opening. What you will be able to expect come May is a "a funky, fun, eclectic bakery," where the Rolling Stones provide the soundtrack and funky versions of desserts you love will satisfy your sweet tooth. Lusk has drawn interior design inspiration from an amazing light fixture she found outside of Fredricksburg, TX. A subway tile wall will give focus to the service area, where you'll find eight bar stools and a window bench for enjoying your sweet with your beverage of choice. Materials like reclaimed wood and cast iron piping will create an environment, Lusk hopes, that bucks the trend of cutesy when it comes to desserts.

Service area will be on the south wall,
eye catching white subway tile and rustic elements for an almost masculine aesthetic

Plans for the finished space, including a micro-office for Lusk

True to the neighborhood, Lusk is focusing on using local vendors for everything from beer selection to coasters to employee uniforms. While she is getting help on the wine list, Lusk will be putting the beer list together herself. And she is no longer doing the baking. Focusing on operations is where she thinks she's best used, so she has a pastry chef, as well as a barrista to handle the front of the house. When the doors open for business, Red is going to be open from roughly 7 am until 8 pm. Lusk is open to changing this as she is able to see what her customer base prefers. With hours and some other aspects of the business, Lusk is willing to remain flexible and experience some trial and error "until we find our sweet spot." Pun intended?

As of today, April 16, some good progress toward Red's anticipated May opening
Red Dessert Dive + Coffee Shop
1045 Studewood
Houston Heights
Twitter/ @Red_HoustonTX