Daniel Enriquez and Hazel’s Kitchen in Tulare
Jul 26, 2016 10:00AM
By Jordan Venema
Lunch is Served
By Jordan Venema
Photo: Amber Smith
Those who live in Tulare know all about its charm, country roots and neighborly atmosphere. In a word, quaint could describe this Central Valley town.
Hazel’s Kitchen is one Tulare establishment that seems to capture in a single glimpse much of what the town has to offer – hospitality, period architecture and good food (because here in the valley, there’s no excuse not to enjoy farm-fresh cuisine). Hazel’s is such a fit, in fact, that it runs the risk of being overlooked from blending in with its surroundings. Credit the building’s mix of Victorian and Carpenter elements, the wraparound porch and peaked roof, because Hazel’s Kitchen is as natural to downtown Tulare as the oaks that surround it.
Built in 1908, the house that holds Hazel’s Kitchen takes its name from former owner and Tulare City Clerk Hazel Hoyt. In the 1990s the house was nearly condemned, though it was eventually converted and opened as a restaurant in November 1995.
Owner Daniel Enriquez purchased Hazel’s kitchen about 10 years ago, but he’s essentially been a part of the restaurant since it opened more than 20 years ago.
“It’s crazy,” he admits. “I started a few months out of high school and I never left. I was hired on in February, waiting tables and helping all around.”
Take a seat and eat a bite and it’s easy to see why Enriquez stuck around. There’s a country-style charm about Hazel’s Kitchen, both inside and out. He hears from customers often, “they always say it’s like going to Grandma’s house, or it’s like going home.”
“It’s a nice, relaxing lunch to get away,” Enriquez adds.
The intimacy of Hazel’s Kitchen has much to do with that at-home atmosphere. Between indoor, garden and porch seating, Hazel’s only serves about 20 tables, with seven in the main dining room. In a way, the fewer seats allow Hazel’s staff to focus on customer service, which Enriquez says helps his restaurant stand apart. And while Hazel’s intimate seating translates perhaps to a quieter, slower-paced meal, Hazel’s popularity keeps them pumping out the sandwiches.
“We’re typically serving about 80 to 150 people a day,” says Enriquez. “We’re serving sandwiches, salads and soups in the fall and winter months, and potato salad in spring.” Their menu hasn’t changed much in the last 20 years, but why mess with a good thing? “It’s been tweaked here or there, but we’re pretty much serving the same great quality food from the beginning.”
Popular sandwiches include chicken salad, with sliced apples, celery and chicken breast diced and mixed in mayonnaise, and the roasted red pepper chicken sandwich. Their most popular salad, says Enriquez, is the Chinese chicken salad.
“We have a variety of breads baked every day, and all homemade dressings for our salads are made here,” says Enriquez.
While hours are restricted to lunchtime on weekdays, Hazel’s caters weddings and office events, while on evenings and weekends it becomes available for reserved parties.
“We don’t typically cater for anything over 100,” clarifies Enriquez, “but we have the possibility to do wedding and baby showers on the weekend,” which starts at $18.95 per person, with a minimum of 20 guests.
“I’ve enjoyed the customer base that we’ve established over the years,” says Enriquez. “I’ve seen families grow up, and now they’re having kids. I’ve been here 20 years, and we’ve done bridal showers, and then baby showers, and now we’re having graduation parties (for those kids). It’s kind of crazy.”
Another element of Hazel’s charm is its gift shop. “That was the main big change when I took over,” says Enriquez. “All the home décor and decorations around Hazel’s and around the customers is for sale.”
A mix of rustic home furnishings, candles and frames, the gift shop décor further creates that cozy, hospitable atmosphere. It helps that customers have been coming to Hazel’s for 20 years, but new customers are always welcome. And who wouldn’t enjoy that feeling – going out to eat but feeling as comfortable as though at home?
Enriquez does agree. “Hazel’s is like going home, but going home for lunch.”
Hazel’s Kitchen • 237 N. L St., Tulare • (559) 685-0455
Monday-Friday, 9am - 2pm
www.thehazelskitchen.com • Find them on Facebook