Written by The Business Journal Staff
Owner and chef Naomi Hendrix picked up the keys to her new space in the Galleria at Fresno’s Civic Center Square last month, and is currently in the midst of updating the former site of the Fresno Grand Opera Business Office.
“It’s pretty small so we’re having to build out the inside,” she said. “It’s a good fit for us though since we don’t cook food. Everything is prepared with knives or at most, we use a food dehydrator.”
Hendrix was inspired to start the business after the death of her son nine years ago. The 21-year-old died from complications stemming from gluten intolerance, a fate Hendrix hopes to spare others.
Her quest to promote a gluten, sugar, soy, peanut and dairy free diet led her to begin teaching cooking classes at local farmer’s markets six years ago. Her vegan paleo recipes, billed as “food that matters,” found an eager audience and Hendrix expanded to a food truck operation four years later.
The Raw Fresno truck now has a loyal following and appears regularly at mobile gatherings throughout the city, including Gazebo Gardens and CArthop.
Last October, Hendrix placed second in the Downtown Fresno Foundation’s “Create Here Business Plan Competition.” While the spot did not come with any sort of prize, Raw Fresno’s proposal for a restaurant in the Galleria proved a hit with Civic Center owners and the group later offered her 12 months free rent.
“They had originally wanted a salon space to go in there, but I guess they liked my idea a lot because within a few days they reached back out to me,” she said.
Located next door to Teazer’s, Hendrix said she hopes to partner with the teahouse on several weekly events including board game nights on Tuesdays and open comedy night on Friday’s. The 916-square-foot restaurant will also join the Downtown Art Hop circuit and continue to host food preparation classes for the public.
As buzz builds around the new space, Hendrix said she continues to hear from local supporters. A friend of her late son’s who now works at Fresno-based California Tiny House even reached out to offer construction services for the new space.
“Everything has just been falling into place for me and I feel really lucky to have all this support,” she said. “I love being a part of the community down here. I have so many childhood memories of Downtown and I really want to help be a part of the transformation.”
The new restaurant will create between three and six new jobs and Hendrix said she plans to continue operating the food truck, even expanding its operation hours to include a new commitment at Fresno City College.
“We’re the first food truck they’ve agreed to let on campus,” she said. “They know the food is a hit with the students and we’ll begin making an appearance there two days a month.”