Downtown Riverside’s Food Lab Fills First Three Slots: Pizza, Craft Beer, and Belgium Waffles

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(This article was written by Alicia Robinson and published in the Press Enterprise on July 21, 2017.)

The highly anticipated food hall that’s going in next to Riverside’s Fox Performing Arts Center has announced the first 3 of 14 tenants: Bricks and Birch, which offers wood-fired pizzas, soups, and salads; BeerFarm, which will serve popular and rare craft beers paired with small plates of meats, cheeses, and tinned fish; and Sweet Combforts, which will serve Belgium Liege Waffles smothered in delicious toppings, ice cream, and milkshakes.

Developers Jerry and Ed Tessier have chosen the rest of the vendors for the Riverside Food Lab, but they’re spacing out the announcements over the next month or so to help keep up interest in the venue, Jerry Tessier said. It’s expected to open in early 2018.

Diners can also expect a craft cocktail bar, coffee, a couple of dessert stalls and chefs offering everything from comfort food to vegan fare.

“Our goal was to get a mix of new businesses and established businesses, and with a focus on Riverside” and the region, Tessier said.

The first three announced tenants fit that bill.

Rare craft beers

BeerFarm is a first-time business venture of Yucaipa couple Danny and Jessica Gibson and Nathan Andrade, of Calimesa.

They’re not brewers, but all three love craft beer and were looking to open a place where they could sell it and discuss it with customers, Danny Gibson said.

“We discovered Food Lab and decided it was the perfect fit,” he said.

They haven’t finalized a beer list yet, but BeerFarm will have a revolving menu of draft beers and hard-to-find bottles from smaller craft breweries.

The Gibsons and Andrade have other jobs: Jessica is a stay-at-home mom, Danny works in construction and Andrade is an occupational therapist — and they plan to work around that, at least in the beginning.

Wood-fired pizza

Bricks and Birch operators Melanie and Daniel Bradford, with their two-year-old location in Redlands, have a little more experience.

They specialize in wood-fired pizzas with toppings such as figs and goat cheese, butternut squash, prosciutto and arugula. They also serve salads and vegetarian soups, Melanie Bradford said. The couple makes or grows most of their ingredients.

Bradford, who earned a culinary degree in pastry making, said she loves the food hall concept, and downtown Riverside is “so charming and just a place you want to be.”

Tessier agreed, adding that the area has a lunch crowd from downtown offices, evening diners who come downtown for the nightlife, and weekend visitors drawn by events such as the Festival of Lights.

“It’s got all the ingredients to support a food hall,” he said.

Trying to get 14 different restaurants into one space and being on the ground floor of a parking garage created some design challenges, so construction is a bit behind schedule. But when it’s done, the Riverside Food Lab will have kiosks with counters for each vendor along the walls and open seating in the middle, as well as an outdoor patio.

And if having 14 choices isn’t enough variety, Tessier said tenants will also be changing things up with seasonal menus.

“You can go with a group of people or you can even just go on a date and you don’t have to decide what you’re eating before you get there,” he said.

Dessert Waffles

Geoff Manila and Anne Marie Damaso started Sweet Combforts with one goal in mind: to create an elaborate yet traditional Belgium Liege waffle that could be enjoyed as a dessert.

Geoff and Anne Marie named their shop "Sweet COMBforts" in homage to the original waffle - because when waffles were first created, they actually had a honeycomb pattern, not the square pattern that we've come to know.

And since Belgium Liege waffles were originally a street food which people would pick up with their hands, Geoff and Anne Marie decided to put them on a stick for easier eating.

What makes Sweet Combforts' waffles so special is the use of pearl sugars, which give a caramelized texture that is unlike anything else. Overall, this culinary team's goal is to make everyone's liege waffle experience a delicious one.

Sweet Combforts has a variety of waffles, ice creams and milkshakes - even including vegan waffles and ice cream options.

If you haven't yet experienced the delight of a Sweet Combforts dessert, you're in for a real treat!

About the Riverside Food Lab

What: It’s an eclectic food hall that will feature 14 food and drink vendors, including coffee, craft beer and cocktails, wood-fired pizzas and desserts.

Where: 3605 Market St., Riverside

When: The expected opening is in early 2018.

Details: The first two tenants have been named – Bricks and Birch and BeerFarm – with more to be announced each Friday in the coming weeks.

Online: riversidefoodlab.com; bricksandbirch.com; BeerFarm is on Twitter @beerfarm_ and Facebook @IEBeerfarm.

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