In the heart of Montrose in the former location of McGowen Cleaners, Kelly Barnhart recently debuted gluten- and dairy-free all-day eatery Vibrant. A stylish, health-conscious crowd flocked to the instant hit, and that was before the dinner service was launched in November. Barnhart, who previously was a curatorial assistant at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, carefully selected not only the artful menu items at Vibrant, but also the pared-down feminine decor scheme and standout art pieces. Here, she dishes on the hot spot.
How did the idea for Vibrant come about?
I left [The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston] to have Lyla, my daughter. While I stayed home with her, I daydreamed about opening a juice bar. It slowly and organically built.
Did you bounce the idea off of anyone else?
I have a friend, Marie, who is a nutritionist; our kids are the same age. During play dates, she and I would talk incessantly about health, well-being, nutrition, and the Houston marketplace and how there’s such a significant need for this—a place you can go and feel totally safe and completely trust every single ingredient. Stuff we would want our kids to eat. Through our conversations, the pieces started coming together. Five years later, here we are.
Why does this concept work in Houston?
Because it doesn’t exist. I had no interest in being a restaurateur and no chef experience. Vibrant comes from a consumer-based entrepreneurial perspective to offer healthy yet flavorful food. I wanted a place that bridged beauty, fun, art, design and a brilliant combination of ingredients and flavor profiles.
Why’d you choose this location?
I had a very clear vision. I looked at spaces for two years. Once the McGowen Cleaners building popped onto the market—I’ve had a crush on this building for as long as I can remember—I jumped on it immediately. It’s a time capsule of a bygone era of Houston. I loved saving it.
Tell me about your goal for the menu.
To create [dishes] that are pleasurable, satisfying and beautiful as much as they are good for you. One hundred percent healthy.