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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.

Blake Lynch to Harrisburg: ‘Let’s build a new culture’

Meet Blake Lynch, the Director of Development at the Boys & Girls Club of Harrisburg. As a native of the Harrisburg-Hershey region, Blake’s commitment to the area is evident through his participation with Rotary International, Harrisburg Young Professionals, the Capital Region Partnership for Career Development and a bevy of other community-focused organizations.

Blake took a few minutes out of his jam-packed schedule to share his vision for Harrisburg, and explain why he thinks this area has a bright future in store.

 

 What do you love about the Harrisburg area?

The culture is great – you can have a city atmosphere going into downtown, or you can go out to the suburbs or the country in just a few minutes to get a small-town feeling.

There’s so many great things to do in this area, too. My wife Bryttani and I love visiting the local vineyards with friends and taking our son to the festivals and pop-up events like street fairs happening downtown.

We also spend a lot of time in Hershey – going to the park* and catching shows at Hershey Theatre. My wife and I are also house parents at Milton Hershey School every other weekend, which is a great opportunity for us to give back to the local community.

I love the location of the capital region that Harrisburg offers – we’ve got access to big cities in just a short distance, but the cost of living is so much more economical than larger cities.

*For visitors unfamiliar with Hershey, “the park” is Hersheypark, an amusement park that boasts 13 roller coasters, 15 water attractions and 26 rides for children.

 

What do you see for Harrisburg’s future in the years to come?

I see great opportunity, especially as those who are in positions of authority begin to retire. This next generation can start building a new culture in this region and can shape it to be we’d like it to become – a new environment of diversity. I see diversity with innovation in tech spaces and stem programming, and fresh ideas for the way our children learn and how education is received and taught.

There’s new ways we can change this area to be more attractive so we don’t experience a brain drain. A lot of people leave after attending college in this area, and it would be great for them to stay – let’s create a great environment for families to grow and succeed.

This region has the potential to be a hub of career advancement, shared spaces and incubators. That’s why we’re still here – we want to be a part of that change.

It’s been said before, but the capital region is a great place to live, work and play. It’s what you make it out to be – there’s so many communities and different industries waiting to be explored.

Take on the challenge to find something you love to do and enjoy. I promise you, it’s here – and it’s not here, you can help to create it.

Cultural
Education
Education

Harrisburg Regional Chamber and CREDC

Project Partners
  • Highmark
  • PP&L Electric Utilities
  • Penn National Insurance
  • Penn State Milton S. Hershey Medical Center
  • TheBurg
  • Capital Blue
  • Delta Dental of Pennsylvania
  • Sara Bozich
  • Hershey Entertainment & Resorts
  • Pennsy Supply Inc.
  • GIANT
  • Milton Hershey School
Project Partners
  • Capital Blue
  • Hershey Entertainment & Resorts
  • Pennsy Supply Inc.
  • PP&L Electric Utilities
  • GIANT
  • Sara Bozich
  • Milton Hershey School
  • Penn National Insurance
  • Penn State Milton S. Hershey Medical Center
  • TheBurg
  • Delta Dental of Pennsylvania
  • Highmark
Project Partners
  • Milton Hershey School
  • Delta Dental of Pennsylvania
  • GIANT
  • Penn State Milton S. Hershey Medical Center
  • Hershey Entertainment & Resorts
  • PP&L Electric Utilities
  • Highmark
  • Pennsy Supply Inc.
  • Sara Bozich
  • TheBurg
  • Capital Blue
  • Penn National Insurance
Project Partners
  • Pennsy Supply Inc.
  • TheBurg
  • Milton Hershey School
  • Highmark
  • Sara Bozich
  • Delta Dental of Pennsylvania
  • Hershey Entertainment & Resorts
  • Penn National Insurance
  • PP&L Electric Utilities
  • Capital Blue
  • Penn State Milton S. Hershey Medical Center
  • GIANT
PPL