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McLain Hedges and Mary Allison Wright grew up eating “meat-and-three” classics like squash casserole and buttermilk pie on cafeteria trays in Chattanooga, Tennessee. Now, the husband-and-wife team behind the drink program at Morin, the Proper Pour, and Yacht Club is bringing this piece of their Southern upbringing to Denver diners with a charity-driven pop-up called Door Prize, which will take place on the back patio of Globeville’s Fort Greene bar. “This is really a love letter to the food we grew up on,” says Wright. “There’s a lot of nostalgia around it. To say this is near and dear to our hearts could not be more true.”
Like many in Colorado’s restaurant and hospitality industry, Wright and Hedges found themselves with an unprecedented amount of time on their hands when Morin closed in March. They used the time to reflect—on their personal goals and values, on how they could help their community during this crisis, and on various business models for boosting pay and benefits for restaurant staffers. “After the initial Netflix binge, it really gave us the time to think about, ‘What can we do?’” says Wright. “We’re capable of at least making drinks and preparing this type of food and handing it to people. This is really just meant to feed people and drive money to a cause that could use money right now.” The hope is that Door Prize the restaurant will follow the summer pop ups, featuring employee ownership and profit-sharing.
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In the meantime, the pop up events will run on a pay-what-you-can model that benefits restaurant staff and Black Women’s Blueprint, a national organization working to empower Black women and girls. One hundred percent of food sales will go to the charity, while alcohol sales will go to the staff and toward future pop-ups. Sara Bennett, a Door Prize partner and director of operations at the Proper Pour chose the organization Black Women’s Blueprint. Though the dishes on Door Prize’s menu stem mostly from family recipes, Wright and Hedges want to acknowledge the vital role Black women have played in shaping our nation’s cuisine, especially Southern food. “This food exists because of their work,” says Wright.
The pop up’s name is a nod to the lyrics of one of the duo’s favorite songs—John Prine’s “In Spite of Ourselves.” But it’s also symbolic of their approach to hospitality. “The door prize is something that everybody has an equal opportunity to get when you attend a party, whether it’s a raffle ticket or a prize or a gift,” says Hedges. “That really translates to our mission. Everyone is welcome and everyone has an equal opportunity when they come into our restaurant or bar.”
The symbolism also extends to the meat-and-three concept itself, which is typically served cafeteria-style and includes a rotating selection of meats and sides. Not only does this style of food travel well, but it’s also unpretentious and accessible. “Meat-and-three is really for everyone, it feeds all walks of life,” said Wright.
Hedges, who is doing most of the cooking for the project alongside Wright’s brother, David, is riffing on classic Southern staples. His squash casserole, for example, isn’t a huge departure from the traditional recipe, but it’s lighter and contains less dairy. His sweet potato casserole is more savory than the traditional recipe featuring marshmallows and pecans. “Sweet potatoes are already naturally very sweet and I don’t need to make them sweeter unless it’s for pie,” he says. “These are slightly fluffy and creamy, but savory and smoky. There are some North African spices met with some Southwestern flavors.”
Buttermilk pie, pickled shrimp, and a vegan variation of the black-eyed peas dish Hoppin’ John called “Hoppin’ Jane,” not to mention canned and bottled cocktails and natural wines, are also on tap for the pop-ups. Hedges and Wright wouldn’t have it any other way.
Door Prize pop ups are being held every Saturday and Sunday, from 12–2 p.m., for the rest of July on the back patio of Fort Greene bar, with 22 socially distanced seats (keep an eye out for announcements about the pop-up’s plans for August). Takeout is also encouraged. More details on the Door Prize Instagram.