Pullen Park was the very first place in Raleigh that Holly Taylor's daughter set foot. The family had just moved back to North Carolina and had traveled from a relative's house to attend a friend's birthday party at Pullen.
It was love at first site for Taylor's daughter, then almost two, Taylor says. When the carousel closed for the winter, she missed it so much, they made a book about it filled with photos of the family at the park.
Now Taylor is able to share her own passion - bringing fresh, healthy, local food to kids and families - at the place her daughter, now a first grader, loves so much.
Taylor, a Rocky Mount native, is one of three partners at Pullen Park's new Pullen Place cafe, which will open at 10 a.m., Saturday, as part of the park's grand opening. Pullen, a destination for generations in the Triangle, closed nearly two years ago for a $6.3 million overhaul. The new Pullen now includes an indoor carousel house to help protect its historic carousel, a new welcome center, playground, refurbished kiddie train and more.
Pullen Place sits in the same place as the park's former concession stand. But that's the only similarity. Taylor and her partners, Steve Mangano and Zely & Ritz chef/owner Sarig Agasi plan to offer fresh, seasonal, local foods at affordable prices.
You'll find everything from hot dogs and chips to baked N.C. sweet potatoes, soup and sausages from Farmhand Foods in Durham. There will be gluten-free options. Snacks include fresh popped popcorn, chips and Rice Krispie treats. And soda won't be for sale. But you will find tea, fresh lemonade, cider, hot chocolate and coffee. Prices for most of the snacks, drinks and treats are $1 to $2. A hot dog is $1.99. Specialty sandwiches will cost a few dollars more.
"The focus is on flavor and quality and community and just bringing people together ... in one of the most fun places that we know of in Raleigh," Taylor said.
Taylor comes from a long line of cooks and food lovers. She says food is a great way to bring people together.
"Everyone deserves the opportunity to eat fresh, delicious foods at affordable prices," she tells me. "Unfortunately, this is not always the case."
That motivated her years ago when she was living in California to start Collective Roots, a nonprofit that provides kids and families in East Palo Alto, Calif., a regular opportunity to grow, prepare and share healthy foods together.
"I learned so much in my seven years with the organization, but most of all that kids love to eat veggies ... especially when they’re fresh and served in a fun and thoughtful way," she tells me. "I hope that Pullen Place will be a catalyst for expanding access to good food, in all senses of the word, to residents of Raleigh and beyond."
Her partnership with Mangano came along a couple of years ago after they met at a neighborhood meeting. They found a shared interest for food, kids and community and entrepreneurship and came up with several ideas. One of them became Pullen Place. Agasi came on board soon after and has been instrumental in developing recipes and finding local farmers and producers.
They met with the city to talk about their idea to serve up affordable fare at Pullen Park. The city eventually awarded Pullen Place the contract after a competitive bid process. (Full disclosure: Taylor lives in my neighborhood and our daughters attend the same school).
Since then, they've been working to move in to the new space and refine the menu. Pullen Place will open with a limited menu at first, but will eventually expand to include more items. Starting in 2012, they'll cater birthday parties and other gatherings at the park. Eventually, Taylor hopes the cafe can offer programs and activities for kids about fresh, healthy foods.
Right now, Taylor and her partners and staff are focused on the opening, which is expected to draw thousands to the park this weekend. The park and Pullen Place will be open from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturday and Sunday.
During the grand opening, you'll be able to buy food at the cafe building, along with four satellite stations throughout the park. They will be located near the train, by the playgrounds, across from the carousel and at the pond gazebo. You'll find everything from freshly grilled boneless chicken breasts and thighs marinated in Pullen Place's seasoning blend to prepared sandwiches, cookies and more.
Taylor said the goal is to have something for everybody on the menu while offering healthy, fresh food that's affordable to all. There are certainly other local restaurants where the focus is on fresh, local foods and flavors, she tells me, but there aren't a lot of affordable ones.
"That's the niche that we're trying to reach out to," Taylor said.