As you enter the doors of the modernist brick and glass structure surrounded by wild grasses and weeping willows, you’re greeted by a Scandi-inspired space boasting mid-century pieces and a color palette that nods to a desert sunset. As you sip your matcha latte with house-made nut milk and served in ceramics handmade in Brooklyn, you peruse a menu that’s made of locally-sourced ingredients (and free of gluten, dairy or refined sugar.) Would you be surprised to learn that you’re not among hipsters in Brooklyn or Portland? Well, my friend, you’ve arrived at Vibrant, one of the newest restaurants to make Houston, Texas one of the most exciting food cities in America these days.
Vibrant is the brainchild of Kelly Barnhart, a Houston native, who was inspired to create the restaurant after the birth of her daughter, Lila.
She dreamt of an intimate space where nourishing, sustainable food could be enjoyed against the backdrop of a design-driven space, shifting the paradigm for how her community approaches wellness and healthy living.
Since Vibrant’s inception a year ago, Kelly and her all-female team have grown a dedicated and enthusiastic following who embrace the spirit, stunning design, and nourishing dishes they turn out daily. To celebrate, Kelly hosted a gathering at the restaurant for a few close friends, and we captured it in action. Scroll on for more about how she’s created such a special space, plus Kelly’s entertaining must-have’s and a few delicious recipes we can’t wait to cook up this spring.
Tell us about your vision for opening Vibrant.
Vibrant is a happy little community place for feeling good. It is a passion pursuit about scaling wellbeing for people through high vibrating food, in a way that is the most sustainable to the planet.
The food is about bridging pleasure and wellbeing. All of the satisfying deliciousness, made entirely from the highest quality, nutritiously beneficial ingredients, enhance your vibrance while exciting your senses. The quirky minimalism of a West Texas sunset is the aesthetic – as dictated to me by the spirit of the 1961 dry cleaner building that houses us. It was so particular that I made every design decision on site, in the presence of the space.
The design of the space is so gorgeous! Tell us about your remodel process to transform the old laundromat into this stunning restaurant.
I had my eye on this building (an old dry cleaner) for years, and had a vision of what it could be if resurrected and re-made into a dining/community space. Its design was informed by using only a small set of materials, keeping the building as authentic to its retro roots as possible. I left the original concrete floors, and added laminate tables and cabinets, fir wood banquettes, and custom Jesmonite terrazzo pieces. To stay in tune with the building’s spirit, we installed vintage 60’s Scarpa pendant lights and collected just the right chairs from all over the world — the majority are Friso Kramer “Revolt” chairs, with the remaining being mostly white plastic chairs from 1969.
How did you end up here? Are you a food industry veteran?
Vibrant is my only experience in this industry. Intentionally I have remained completely naive to how the restaurant world generally works, wanting to remain free of imprinting, and do our own thing from an entirely fresh perspective and new standards. As is typical on the other side of divorce, I embarked on a hard core healing journey that left me feeling super empowered. I became obsessed with the idea of contributing to wellbeing and healing in my community, starting with the elemental level of food, and the effect of its vibrational frequency. We eat three times a day, which is that many times to make a choice on how to value yourself. I wanted a place that helped with the choice of self love while experiencing pleasure and satisfaction.
What has been your biggest challenge since opening Vibrant?
A macro long term goal is to help bring regenerative farming into the mainstream. These farming practices are ultra effective in pulling carbon out of the air, returning it back to the soil– supercharging the mineralization in what’s growing, maximizing the potential for homeostasis in the body while healing the planet. This is not easy to find in this early phase of the life cycle of these practices. We are sourcing from the best that organics has to offer in the nearby proximity, but we see that we are going to need to become direct supply side providers in this new frontier.
What do you hope customers will leave with after dining at Vibrant? What feeling do you wish to convey to your diners?
I want people to leave feeling like they have just been nurtured in the best way possible by a meal and environment — feeling inspired, stimulated, satisfied, and set up for success for the rest of their day.
Or shocked that dinner and drinks with friends could be that charming, satisfying AND feel great after. The point is to create peace and quiet in the body, so there is space to feel what needs to be felt, and connect with your true potential and that of those around you.
What’s your must-have entertaining tool?
Some very funky, unfiltered, natural wine.
The entertaining rule you never break:
The music must be loud enough to be felt, the lights must be dim, and candlelight!
What scares you about entertaining?
That people will stay into the wee hours of the morning and then I’ll be tired the next day. Which almost always happens, and means it was fun. So it’s worth the fear.
What’s your signature dish?
I don’t cook, which is reason #1,052 I made Vibrant.. an incubator of my dream foods that I don’t actually have the patience or skill to prepare. The Vibrant salad rolls, cauliflower soup, pizza, or crudite platters are fabulous for parties at home or at V!
What’s your signature cocktail?
The Vibrant celery juice margarita with mezcal is always a huge hit.
The taste you’re always craving?
I like to be stimulated and excited by clever flavor complexity while being visually dazzled, knowing the high vibrational integrity of the ingredients nurture my body while creating feelings of pleasure and self love.
What’s your go-to source for recipes?
I meet weekly with my Vibrant dream team Angel, Patti, and Kelli. We talk all about our dream foods. Then Patti manifests them and we develop the recipes together.
What would we never find at one of your parties?
Do you reference any family traditions when you entertain?
The perfect dinner party playlist includes:
My friend Olivia Persia is the master playlist maker, among many other things. They will likely have a vibe of David Bowie, Devandra Banhart, 60’s French music, and Wes Anderson sound tracks.
Favorite after-dinner activity or game?
The game where you put the name of a famous person in history on the persons forehead to your right. Then ask a series of yes or no questions to figure out who you are. It inspires lively conversations about very random and interesting people places and things.
Favorite tabletop item you own?
At home and at Vibrant, all of my ceramics and glassware are handmade wherever possible. There’s something nurturing about feeling a heartbeat in the delivery of your sustenance, making eating and drinking feel more ceremonial.
The restaurant meal I’ll never forget:
T-Bone with a cheese enchilada, the house special at the Whiteleghorn Inn in Westhoff, Texas where I spent weekends in my childhood. The best memories of shooting pool in between bites of barely edible food, under the glow of neon beer signs, falling down ceiling, and the best jukebox.
Go-to centerpiece solution:
A single type of flower in a smattering of small vases and lots of candles.
Secret to a great dinner party:
Music that makes you feel, and wine that has soul.
Current favorite color palette for parties:
What’s your standard host / hostess outfit?
If at home, something that’s slightly too weird and quirky to wear in public.
Dream dinner guests:
Mary Magdalene, Joan of Ark, Hilary Clinton, Ruth Bader Ginsberg, Carl Jung, Elon Musk, my boyfriend, and my 7 year old daughter and favorite ever human, Lila.
Fill in the blank: “It’s not a party without ____________.”
My entertaining style in 5 words or less___________.
Magical, beautiful, delicious, relaxed.