With a mix of local food and retail concepts, the Mother Road Market is a vibrant community space that draws in Tulsans and tourists to support local businesses while having a great time on Route 66.
With initiatives to promote Tulsa as a tourist spot, the revitalization of Route 66, and focused efforts to build up local entrepreneurs, a lot of exciting things are happening in our fair city. Mother Road Market, a food hall-slash-business incubator located at the corner of 11th Street and Lewis Avenue, is a perfect example of how the blend of tourism mindedness and local business support is making Tulsa cooler than ever.
Developed by the Lobeck Taylor Family Foundation, a nonprofit dedicated to fostering entrepreneurial efforts in the Tulsa area, Mother Road Market launched in 2018 to much success. Conservative estimates put the foot traffic at more than 500,000 visitors in its first year. With a clever mix of local food and retail concepts, the market is a vibrant community space that draws in Tulsans and tourists to support local businesses while having a great time.
General manager Jeff Thompson says Mother Road Market’s specific blend of food, shopping, and entrepreneurial spirit makes it unique. “The food hall idea is not new, but the fusion of food hall and business incubator makes it distinctive,” he says.
The idea to bring in that startup sensibility ties back to another innovative Lobeck Taylor Family Foundation project, Kitchen 66, which is Tulsa’s first food incubator — a place where budding restaurateurs can finetune their ideas before launching a full-on restaurant. This is advantageous, because starting any new business, especially a restaurant, is difficult. The testing period helps ensure the restaurant keeps going, a benefit for the business owner and the local economy.
“Kitchen 66 started in 2015,” explains Thompson. “A lot of great successes came out of that program, but one of the needs that surfaced was a place for restaurants to test out concepts longer.” The question was asked: What if there was a low-risk, shared location that offered various levels of options to business owners, to help remove barriers to entry? That’s how Mother Road Market came to be.
In the market’s roomy, open space are housed around 20 different retail and food concepts, from recognizable local brands like Andolini’s Slice and Oklahoma Joe’s Barbecue, to newer startups you may not have tried yet, like Howdy Burger, Big Dipper Creamery, Wel Bar, and Bodhi’s Bowl, to name a few. There’s a great range of food options — burgers, rice bowls, pizza, ice cream, chicken, freshly baked goods, shrimp, tacos, wraps, sandwiches, coffee, beer, and more.
While you’re there considering what to eat, remember to see what’s new at the Takeover Café, an extension of the Kitchen 66 program. “There’s a different entrepreneur in that space every day of the week,” says Thompson. It’s an effective way for Kitchen 66 participants to test out menu items and business methods, and for Tulsans, it’s “a great way to support local.”
Beyond the food offerings, Mother Road Market has a good set of shops, with plans to expand even more in that arena in response to visitors’ requests for more retail. Right now, the market includes spaces for retailers like The Nest (kitchen goods, local candles, and such), Decopolis (Tulsa-themed items and books), and Mythic Press (local and Route 66-themed merchandise), among others.
To expand the merchandise offerings, Mother Road Market held a contest in September-October 2019 to allow startups to compete in what Thompson calls “a hybrid Shark Tank meets Iron Chef kind of competition.” From the results, they selected four entrepreneurs to launch their concepts in the upcoming Shops at Mother Road Market development, which will be located next to Mother Road Market on the southwest corner of 11th Street and Lewis Avenue.
Expected to open in spring 2020, this additional shopping area will house the winners of the startup contest: Eleanor’s Bookstore — a children’s and young adult bookstore aimed at instilling a lifelong love of reading; Felizsta — a modern, sophisticated collection of Latin American items, including authentic Mexican cookies; Graham Collective — a local wellness and lifestyle shop focused on affordable clean beauty, organic skincare, and nontoxic living; and Oklahoma Distilling Cocktail Co., a bartending supply store that will include a tasting room, mixologists, sommeliers, fun events, and libations for any occasion.
Mother Road Market also gives back to the community. They host many events throughout the year — over 1,000 so far, says Thompson. Upcoming events include sushi-making classes for children with chef Bill Harris Jan. 11 and 18 (tickets can be obtained online); introduction to sourdough bread class Jan. 25; and OU physicians talk Feb. 6, focused on couples’ communications. More events are being added all the time to the market’s online calendar.
Mother Road Market also is environmentally minded, particularly with all the food made there daily. “There’s a lot of potential to generate a lot of waste,” says Thompson. To combat that, the market partners with groups like Sustainable Tulsa, the Metropolitan Environmental Trust, and others to ensure the market is operating sustainably.
“We’ve diverted four tons [of trash] from landfills to composting in the year we’ve been open,” he says. They’ve also donated over 200 pounds of food so far to Iron Gate, Tulsa’s largest soup kitchen and grocery pantry.
Even within the Mother Road Market community, the sense of connection is strong. When chef Seth Smith, owner of Radish, died unexpectedly, the market’s community rallied to the support of his wife. “We brought in grief counselors and went through the grieving process together,” says Thompson. A mural painted recently on the market’s wall by Clean Hands “honors Smith and his creative spirit, as well as the ongoing creative spirit of all the chefs that contribute to Tulsa’s amazing food scene.”
Ultimately, Mother Road Market is very much a way to bring people together, whether it’s the couple who proposes to each other in the market’s demonstration kitchen, birthday parties, cultural events, or just a day of browsing. “You’re supporting mom-and-pop, husband-and-wife, small family businesses [here]. You can feel good that you’re supporting locally owned businesses,” says Thompson.
And of course, going there will never get old, because there will always be something new happening at Mother Road Market. “We see people making this their place, making repeat trips,” he says. “There’s always another reason to come back.”
Mother Road Market
1124 S. Lewis Ave. | Tulsa
Tuesday-Thursday: 10 a.m.-9 p.m.
Friday-Saturday: 10 a.m.-10 p.m.
Sunday: 10 a.m.-9 p.m.
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