Why two Harrisburg natives took vegan dream to Restaurant Row
Kristin Messner-Baker and John Baker are the proud owners of one of the 717’s favorite vegan restaurants, The Vegetable Hunter (formerly Crave and Co.), and they couldn’t be more thrilled with their space on Restaurant Row in the 600 block of North Second Street in Harrisburg.
The couple, whose longtime vision of opening their restaurant and brewery has evolved into a thriving community hub, shared why they can’t imagine doing this anywhere else.
Why was Harrisburg such an obvious choice for you to open The Vegetable Hunter?
Kristin: I’m from Hershey and had lived in midtown Harrisburg in my 20s, and spent years working in my mother’s law firm on State Street, so I’ve loved this area for a long time.
John: I worked in the area about 20 years ago and was often bummed that there was nowhere to eat lunch — my co-workers and I resorted to packing food and eating in Riverfront Park because there simply weren’t places to go for lunch.
Kristin: Yes! My friends and I used to jokingly refer to what is now Restaurant Row as the “Barmuda Triangle,” because all you had at the time was Dewey’s, Zembie’s and Scott’s. I’ve seen Restaurant Row grow from those three bars to what it is now, and that’s been really exciting.
Aside from loving the city — as a business owner, what are some of the positives of opening a business in the Harrisburg area?
Kristin: The cost of living is so affordable compared to other cities — Pittsburgh might be similar, but here the cost is so low that you can do more than just survive with what you’re making, and there’s a lot of jobs that are available in this area.
It’s one of those times where you want to put your foot in where something is about to take off — Harrisburg is really having a renaissance right now and businesses are realizing how the cost of living here is really reasonable.
As stressful as things can be as a business owner, I don’t know if we could have done it in another area. You have the city right here and can be in the country in a minute. Where we live (Boiling Springs), the schools are really good, which has made work/life balance for us as parents easier.
What do you see happening for the city in the next five to ten years?
John: I think we’ll be bridging that gap between midtown and downtown. Harrisburg needs to draw people in, and we’ve got the city vibe — there’s a big difference between a city and a town, and we’ve got to focus on what sets us apart from the suburbs. You’re seeing younger people moving into midtown and downtown to hit that niche, bringing in younger, hipper people.
Kristin: Something that could be really cool is some way to bridge the downtown/midtown gap with a business trail to make one bigger walking area, if bigger businesses move in. If you own a business and you want somewhere with a low cost of living, it’s a gold mine for that. If bigger companies come to Harrisburg, it’ll create jobs and help everybody, since it’ll be bringing more people into the city.
John: There’s room for more businesses in — the more, the merrier!
You can visit The Vegetable Hunter Monday through Saturday at 614 N. 2nd St. in downtown Harrisburg. Check their website for hours here.