Hazel’s Kitchen, 1319 18th Street, celebrates its 30th anniversary this year. Owner Leslie Goldberg attributes the sandwich shop’s longevity to nurturing a loving community first and making money second. This approach has kept staff turnover low. One or more members of the Venegas family – Juan, Daniel, Miguel, and Carlos – have worked at Hazel’s Kitchen at various times since its inception.
“It’s why the people who work there stay for so long,” Goldberg said. “They care about it like it’s their own place. They take pride in working at Hazel’s Kitchen and the food we serve. We want people to make money and do what they like doing, but we care about each other. That’s been the philosophy of Hazel’s Kitchen since the start and because of that, people feel the magic.”
Some of that “magic” is evident in the shop’s gratitude tree. With a table and chairs nestled beneath it, people write down what they’re grateful for on a slip of paper and tie it to the tree’s branches.
“People come just for the gratitude tree,” Goldberg said. “People have told me when they have a bad day, they sit under that tree, read all the things people are grateful for, and they feel better. Hazel’s Kitchen is a piece of magic that came through me and is certainly not because of me. It’s because of all of us.”
Before opening Hazel’s Goldberg hung out at next door’s Farley’s. She became best friends with the manager, Suzy, as well as pals with the owner, Roger Hillyard. One day in 1992, Goldberg and Suzy sat on the sunny side of 18th street and noticed an empty storefront.
“I want to do something there,” Goldberg told her friend. “I want to open something and be a part of the neighborhood.”
She had retail experience and was interested in creating a space where people could come in for a minute or two, say hello to their neighbors, and go.
“That was the whole idea. Being seen and being part of a community,” she said.
Goldberg thought of Hazel’s Kitchen as a connection and complement to Farley’s, a neighborhood hub. The coffee shop is named for Hillyard’s grandfather, Jack Farley. Goldberg discovered that Hillyard’s grandmother was named Hazel. Hillyard shared a box of Hazel’s belongings with Goldberg. Inside was a cookbook and a swatch of seafoam green paint, popular in the 1950s. Hazel’s Kitchen was born, replete with seafoam green paint adorning the walls.
The eatery started off as a sandwich shop, only open from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. so Goldberg could spend time with her twin children, Emma and Jake. Hillyard and Goldberg agreed to support one another rather than compete. Farley’s only sold sandwiches from Hazel’s Kitchen. When his son, Chris, took over in 2012, Farley’s stopped vending Hazel’s Kitchen’s sandwiches but still refers people to the shop. When customers ask for coffee at Hazel’s Kitchen, they’re directed to Farley’s.
As Goldberg’s children grew up, in 2000 she changed the hours and added breakfast items to the menu: bagels, breakfast sandwiches, breakfast burritos, and waffles. Specials, often prompted by regular clients, are frequently created and listed on a sandwich board for others to order, such as the Jordan Special Sandwich: a grilled chicken sandwich with pesto, feta, bacon, veggies, and Hazel’s signature dressing. The most popular items are the grilled chicken melt, breakfast burrito, and vegetarian sandwich with hummus, feta, and veggies, offered from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m.
Hazel’s Kitchen has remained pretty much the same since it opened in 1992, but one thing that’s different is the equipment and ventilation. During the COVID-19 pandemic, Goldberg acquired a small loan to purchase brand-new equipment and improve air circulation.
“We were so lucky to get through that tough time,” she said. “We continued to feed people through contactless pickup, took sandwiches to hospitals, and did anything we could to stay in business. It was tough, but everyone persevered and we stuck together. The merchants supported one another and I couldn’t have done it without them. We have such a great community; people who live here but also who work here. I am grateful for the continued love, support, and such good customers.”