Joining friends and family and community – Lakeland’s first food hall, The Joinery is serving up some of the city’s most unique food finds.
A laundromat, a skate park, a brewery, the building at 640 E. Main Street has had many lives. Over the last year, new life has been breathed into the space in the form of a collective of food vendors and a large communal dining space to accommodate Lakeland foodies. The Joinery owners Jonathan and Sarah Bucklew had a vision for the city. Instead of moving away to find concepts they loved, they wanted to bring them here.
When Sarah Bucklew’s family moved back to Florida from El Paso, Texas – she wasn’t sold on the idea. Her dad had attended Southeastern University in the 1970s before moving the family to El Paso and Mexico to do mission work. They had family in the Orlando area and Sarah’s father wanted to finish his degree, so they moved back to Lakeland. Sarah remembered with a laugh that she used to say she “Dreaded being a Dreadnaught,” in high school. She eventually moved to attend school in Orlando and then to Denver. She met Jonathan Bucklew who had lived in Lakeland since he was nine years old and loved the city. The couple settled in and decided to give life in Lakeland a shot. “I started to really see the beauty in Lakeland and appreciate it,” said Sarah. Traveling for her job as a software consultant took her to trendy cities and tiny towns, making her appreciate home even more.
Both traveled frequently for work – Jon with his band, Copeland and Sarah as a software consultant – and even when they weren’t working. “We both loved traveling,” said Jon. “We became foodies from traveling, we became design enthusiasts from our travels.” They had encountered food hall concepts around the country. “One of our original inspirations was The Source Hotel + Market Hall in Denver,” said Jon. As their travels wound down, they longed for some of the food and design destinations that had captivated them. “Rather than thinking, ‘Where should we move to have more of that,’ we tried to shift our perspective to Lakeland as fertile ground to be a part of bringing some of that here,” said Jon. That initial spark was about three and a half years ago.
The couple makes high-end modern industrial furniture with their company Seventeen20. The furniture company was “born out of necessity,” explained Sarah. The two were remodeling their house while striving to be debt-free. When they didn’t have funds in the budget for a piece they envisioned, they would make it – dining table, concrete counters, sinks and the like. Jon is the fabricator with a focus on understanding how pieces should be constructed. “Growing up, I was always more comfortable with tools in my hand than crayons or a basketball,” said Jon. The ever-creative Sarah is heavily involved in the design side of Seventeen20. Her keen eye for style and design has also carried over to The Joinery.
They built a successful business on Etsy and even have a shop of their own with three full-time and two part-time employees.
Sarah expressed that her software job fulfilled her in many aspects, just not on the creative side of things. She wanted to work more with Jon on Seventeen20 so that she could express that side of herself. The pair began trying to find a space that could be a shop, showroom, and home. The idea grew into thoughts of having other artisans also in the space with shops and showrooms. They would, of course, need food, and coffee and the concept began to take shape as an artisan showroom and food hall near Haus 820. They went strong with the concept before it fell through in 2018.
Then, the old Lakeland Brewery became an attractive option, though it wasn’t suited to be a shop and showroom and food hall. They paired down the idea to a stunning, craft food hall – the first in Lakeland. The Joinery is still somewhat of a showroom for their fine craftsmanship though. A look around the food hall has Seventeen20 craftsmanship on just about all of the metal and wood elements – tables, benches, bar top, and bathroom sinks. “We’ve had some unique life experiences and opportunities that all converged to set us up to be able to seize an opportunity like this,” said Jon.
The decal from the Lakeland Brewing Company can still be seen on the polished concrete floor where the front entrance used to be. Sarah kept it because she sees it as a testament to the building’s rich history. The entrance is now on the side of the building facing the parking lot. The owners did this to keep the patio outside facing Lake Mirror as a more chilled out space with less traffic.
The 12,000 square-foot space embodies modern industrial style with soaring ceilings accented by a network of black steel rafters, stark white walls with black-framed spacious windows and polished concrete floors. The hall is host to eight vendors, some in spaces built out and others in sleekly repurposed shipping containers. Each façade is decorated uniquely to each vendor. The commercial kitchen behind what used to be the taproom is a solid infrastructure they wanted to preserve and now serves as the vendor hub for the food hall.
A feature unique to The Joinery is the fountain drink station. Where many food halls only serve bottles and cans which can lead to room temperature beverages when demand is high, at The Joinery patrons will be able to buy a cup from any of the vendors and help themselves to ice and a fountain drink.
When we toured the space, Sarah was working on art to decorate The Joinery. She flipped through several enlarged retro photos. “They’re all postcards of Lakeland that I love,” she said. Partial to the clean and linear simplicity of modern design, vintage esthetics also call to Sarah. Growing up, her family would visit from El Paso to see her grandparents, aunts, and uncles in the Sunshine State. “I feel like it has a smell, it has a feel,” she said of Florida. The postcards of a mid-century scene at the Lake Wire Inn, Lake Crystal, and Lake Hollingsworth make her think of that distinctly Florida feel. “I wanted to have the color and the vintage quality mixed with the harshness of concrete and steel. The contrast of those things is interesting to me,” said Sarah. Even the fiberglass trays for the food come in funky colors like orange, turquoise, light peach, and olive green have the same retro quality about them.
The back-patio space pays homage to this marriage of simplicity and vintage with a geographically correct line of a warm ombre sunset created by umbrellas covering seating outside. “They make me think of drive-ins or the beach,” said Sarah. The space is also complete with a fire pit area with chairs. The berm along the back of the rear patio presented a landscaping challenge for them at first. The Bucklew’s sought out the help of The Nectary, a retail nursery specializing in Florida native plants. “She prescribed all these plants that grow in beach sand,” said Sarah. This way, they would not only survive but thrive in the less than ideal sandy ground along the track. The goal, she explained, is for these plants to creep and take over the space. They plan to put stakes in the ground with a description and QR code so guests can find out what type of plant it is and buy it for their own lawn.
The jet-black water tower adjacent to the sunset rainbow of umbrellas the owners plan to brighten up with local artwork as well. The lawn is planned to be the home of corn hole games and eventually shuffleboard. As the entire backyard is theirs, they have plans for more lounge space and outdoor games. Sarah said, “The city is putting in a dog park right at the end of our parking lot so we want to take advantage of that and have some more outdoor space.”
“We started by looking at the food. What kinds of food are missing in Lakeland or maybe not represented in the same way that we’ve found in other cities that we love,” said Sarah. They wanted to balance the food and offer fresh things you couldn’t get everywhere.
They reached out to the local restaurant community and received general encouragement and even connections with some of the vendors that occupy The Joinery now. The initial concept for the vendor lineup took shape differently than they thought, but Jon said, “We’re overwhelmed with how great it all came out.”
“What was encouraging to me is when some of these restaurateurs from Tampa came here and saw it and started to buy into the vision and see the community,” said Jon. He sees that these outside concepts are finding what Sarah and Jon love about Lakeland. From their close circle of friends who have helped pitch in, to the people brimming with excitement for these concepts to come to Lakeland, Jon said of the vendors coming from outside of the city, “I think they are starting to see that and catch the vision for this town that the LEDC is cultivating and with Catapult and the CRA and what we’re doing here – the push to be forward-thinking and a design focus and cool development focus.”
The deliciously eclectic line-up includes coffee, beer and small bites courtesy of Tampa-based King State, elevated ice cream from Mayday Ice Cream out of St. Augustine, and craft wood-fired pizzas by Ava, also from Tampa. Sabu Ramen is the first of its kind in Lakeland by Chef Ryan Neal situated next to the gourmet street taco stylings of Gallito Taqueria by Chef Ferrell Alvarez. Chef Alvarez, also of Tampa’s Rooster & the Till acclaim, is one the Bucklew’s favorite chefs. Sarah recalls having to work up the courage to ask if they would put their concept in Lakeland and was ecstatic to have them come in.
Across the dining space from Ava are “funky fresh blooms” by Bloom Shakalaka. The only retail vendor in The Joinery, Bloom has a card wall, flower bar, ready-made bouquets and according to the Bucklew’s will eventually be a hub for full-service floral.
Ato, a burritos and bowls concept by Zukku Sushi at Armature Works in Tampa will offer a selection of curated sushi and poke bowls. Rounding out the eats is Super Duper Spot with hamburgers, to-die-for chicken sandwiches, and hand-cut fries.
A central point of the space is the 24-tap bar butted up to large brewing tanks. The majority of the taps will be reserved for beer from breweries around the state with a couple of taps dedicated to kombucha, matcha, and wine. The Joinery isn’t yet brewing but hopes to be by the end of March. The plan is to be a facility to host brewers from around the state – their recipes, their beer, their name, just at The Joinery. Sarah says they would like to have a brewmaster to be, “proactively seeking out craft brewers from around the state and bringing them in and showcasing them – that’s our initial vision.” We may even see brews from the food hall’s very own King State.
At the bar, The Joinery will offer four to six reds and four to six whites with a focus on biodynamic wines. The cocktail keeps with the same vintage Lakeland spin as the rest of the space. Drawn to the mid-century, Sarah said their goal was to create craft cocktails in the same vein of classics, keeping the drinks light and bright. They have six standard drinks, two of which offer variations. The Northside and Southside Royale being one such drink gives patrons the option to opt for rum to rep the northside or gin to side with the southside. The His & Hers Old Fashioned can be ordered with gin which Jon is partial to, or mezcal and tequila like Sarah prefers. The floral garnishes featured in some of their drinks are edible flowers from Happy’s Place Farm.
The Joinery had several soft openings throughout mid-January before their public soft-opening on January 20, 2020. “I’m a firm believer that rising tides lift all boats. I’m looking forward to being a part of the growth in this area of our community,” said Jon. The Bucklew’s think The Joinery will add to the cultivation of the area. “I think this is going to help bring more people to the area and I think it’s going to help Lakeland become more of a destination.”
Sarah has a ton of plans and ideas for the space and cannot wait to see her vision realized. “I’m excited to see how each concept does and how people receive it,” she said. Managing a team of people is new to Sarah, but she is looking forward to building a community with them. “I love the process of building a team and everybody working in concert together – that’s beautiful to me.”
640 E Main St, Lakeland, FL
Fri & Sat 11am-11pm