An Outpouring of Jersey Pride at Homegrown
If there’s one thing we’re known for more than our bagels, beaches, and Taylor Ham in New Jersey, it’s our home state pride. The new bar HomeGrown, formerly Headroom Bar & Social, embodies that Jersey pride by serving only drinks from craft breweries, distillers, cideries, and wineries from NJ, bringing favorites from all over the state under one roof in Jersey City. We spent a warm evening socially distancing and enjoying a cocktail on HomeGrown’s patio with Kennedy Grey, Director of Events, Community Liaison, and General Manager, who told us all about the idea, the struggles, and the meaning behind a concept that’s touched her and the community.
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Headroom Becomes HomeGrown
The idea of changing the Headroom space came up between 150 Bay St. owner Howard Brunner and Grey at the end of February, however, moving forward didn’t grow feet until the pandemic struck a few weeks later, forcing the club to close and pivot in its function.
“It was always important that however we rebranded, it was to be a community space. We needed to strip it down to its bare bones,” said Grey. “The concept started months ago, but no one knew what we were doing with this shutdown, and globally everyone was at a standstill. We realized we were able to use that time to really look at the space and see what needed to be done and start planning for when we were able to open back up again.”
After pitching and getting the green light on the “drink Jersey fresh” bar, Grey brought on Tom Rachelski, one of the owners of Clifton-based Ghost Hawk Brewery, as beer curator and director of the craft program to help her find the best of the best. Over the past few months while Headroom stayed closed, the trio worked on building relationships and putting together a game plan to reopen and showcase the Garden State’s incredible craft scene in the renamed HomeGrown space.
The industry of craft alcohol is still a relatively new phenomenon, having exploded in the past 10 years with breweries especially leading the trend. Grey, however, is most proud of the diversity of choice in the menu at HomeGrown, where they showcase beer, of course, but also bring in craft vineyards, cideries, and distilleries for their cocktail program and whisky tastings to show off more of the complexities and range of “craft” that goes beyond beer.
“The fun thing about our menu is we have something for everyone, even non-beer drinkers,” said Grey. “We have ciders that I feel like appeal more to wine drinkers who don’t necessarily like beer, and we have something that appeals to the most complex palate without bordering on pretentious. Basically, you can know your stuff or not when you come here.”
Since their soft launch at the end of June, HomeGrown has already featured some hyper-local favorites, like Bolero Snort Brewery, 902 Brewing Co., Ironbound Hard Cider, and Corgi Spirits, as well as some Jersey Shore staples like Carton and Kane. As of 2019, there were 114 breweries, 51 wineries, and 22 distilleries licensed in New Jersey, giving HomeGrown a seemingly unlimited number of amazing options to tap into, but having so many choices can get overwhelming for a small bar looking to celebrate as many makers as possible.
“There’s definitely more to come because there’s a lot to work with, but how do you get to all of them knowing there’s just so many?” said Grey. “There’s always a moment of self-doubt, like this is a crazy concept that’s crazy to do right now. We have been lucky that with the ones we have been working with, and those we have on deck to show next have been very receptive to the concept, which is really cool knowing we have their support.”
Right now, HomeGrown sells from eight breweries on draft and in to-go bottles/cans, mixes cocktails from three distilleries, and features one winery per month. In the future, they plan to expand inside, once safe, to add to the tap list, hold art shows, and host live music, open mics, and comedy show events every week on the rebranded Headroom Stage at HomeGrown. For now, they are hosting outdoor events and live music. On August 21-23, HomeGrown is hosting the Surf and Turf event in partnership with their sister restaurant, Shell N’ Tail, and The Archer for food and beer pairings from Ghost Hawk.
Opening Against All Odds During COVID
While businesses continue to face uncertain futures in 2020, HomeGrown had the support, but also a seemingly impossible task ahead of its opening: how does a new bar survive during a pandemic? Ahead of its June 20 soft launch, HomeGrown adapted their patio to fit safety guidelines of masked outdoor seating, constant cleaning of seats and tables, and situating the bar just inside the front door to prevent people from going inside. From the first day they opened their doors, the response, and relief, was immediate and welcome.
“Everyone’s been really chill and receptive to it, which I think is in huge part to this community and a testament to the fact that they did take this seriously, but they were starving to leave their homes and wanted something like this,” said Grey.
For now, operations and staff are minimal with Grey taking on many hats some days as General Manager, bartender, barback, receptionist, and friendly face reading off the specials at the door. You won’t see her crack, though, as she shakes cocktails behind the tiny bar and serves them all while greeting and talking to every single person on the patio as if they’re her family or best friends stopping by to hang out. A big part of the casual, fun, and friendly atmosphere emanates from Grey, who sees it from her perspective as just a reflection of the neighborhood and the people coming to gather there.
“I think folks see how like family it is here. I feel really blessed to be part of something like this and opening something like this concept,” said Grey. “It also welcomes the idea and puts out the invitation that Jersey City is not just Downtown. HomeGrown to its core is ‘come here and feel as though you’re at home grabbing a drink with a friend,’ and I think that’s really starting to show.”
Bringing a Spark Back to the Arts District
The concept of community was ingrained in HomeGrown by Grey, which aims to not only put the spotlight on the local New Jersey craft scene, but also bring attention to an area of Jersey City outside Downtown that could use more love.
“We saw that this area was starving for arts and culture,” said Grey. “So, I thought, let’s bring all of those beautiful things about Jersey City under one roof and unite a bunch of different people through music and art because that tends to bring all walks of life together,” said Grey. “People come here and get all sorts of different experiences. I feel like the takeaway is not just having a good time but gaining a community whether you grew up here or, like myself, you’re a transplant.”
Grey grew up in Montclair before moving to Jersey City about five years ago. As an artist, she was attracted to the JC art and culture scene that reminded her much of her hometown. After Grey moved around and got to know the neighborhoods for a few years, Grey would bring her partner, who at the time lived in Jersey City longer than her, around to some of her favorites places that he hadn’t experienced himself yet, and got to fall in love with the city all over again through his eyes.
“We talked about what we were seeing and feeling the vibe that made us want to be Downtown but then also talk about what we were or could be putting into it, too,” said Grey. “You see folks who really put into their community whatever gifts or offerings that they could give it, and we would talk about places we wanted to start that we thought would be cool and beneficial where he thought my ideas would be neat.”
After her partner sadly passed late last year and the rebranding of Headroom began, Grey saw an opportunity to make good on their conversations about giving to a community that rose up to help her when she needed it most.
“A reason why I’m doing this is in huge part because of him. Putting the best parts of what he got to experience in Jersey City in one place is really what ties into my love for this community. I watched people show up for me, and I am so touched by it daily,” she said. “He used to say that wherever I was is home. I can’t provide that feeling to everyone — after all I’m just slinging drinks and giving you good beer – but I know I can at least give people a sense of home by giving them a good cocktail, playing good music, and having them leave with a smile on their face”.
HomeGrown is open Wednesday to Sunday at 150 Bay St. – hours vary. Check out their Instagram and Facebook pages to stay up to date on daily operating hours, outdoor live events, whisky tastings, drink specials, and tap rotations.