Imagine a place filled with the aroma of freshly baked cinnamon rolls; a place where the coffee pot is never empty and the lunch specials are as good as (or better than) your mom used to make. Imagine a place where friends and family gather for good conversation and comfort food at its best.
With Gabby Lou’s Kitchen opening in Harmony, you don’t just have to imagine sitting at the nostalgic lunch counter or sliding into the familiar Harmony House booth, you can walk right in and sit down and order something delicious.
Matt and Heidi Brown, owners of Estelle’s Eatery and Bar, have opened a sister restaurant in downtown Harmony, serving breakfasts and lunches five days a week. As Estelle’s is named for their oldest daughter, Stella, Gabby Lou’s is named for their second daughter, Gabriella Lou.
The inside of this new restaurant reflects Gabby’s joyful spirit, with bright colors on the wall and flowers and butterflies featured in the décor. Gabby died in 2019 at the age of two after fighting leukemia for a little over a year. Her laugh and her smile made it easy to love her and, when she faced her cancer battle with bravery and strength, she brought a community together to fight alongside her.
In a way, Gabby Lou’s Kitchen is a gift back to the community who stood by the Browns during that time. “We feel good about doing it here,” Matt said about opening the restaurant in Harmony. “We love cooking for them and feeding them. We love being open and having people come in so we can take care of them.”
It’s also essential for Matt to be in his kitchen and among the people he feeds. “It is so good for me to be here,” he added. “Our hearts are wrapped around it too tight.”
Matt said opening Gabby Lou’s comes with a bag of mixed emotions. “So many feelings,” he said. “Relief, excitement.”
The Browns bought the building in 2019 as a business investment. The former Harmony House location was just down the block from Estelle’s, so they thought the commercial kitchen would help prepare for catering events, if nothing else. However, as Matt and Heidi began thinking about the possibilities, the concept for what they would do with the building also began to change.
This also came at a time when Heidi wanted to change careers and she and Matt decided to join forces to create a restaurant that would reach a different clientele than they do at Estelle’s.
They began renovating and updating the décor, wanting to keep the nostalgic vibe from the Harmony House, but also incorporate a blend of the “old and new.” Removing the dropped ceiling, the Browns discovered the old tin ceiling and they decided to keep the booths and lunch counter in homage to the Harmony House tradition in town. New flooring was installed and walls were painted. Matt opened up the kitchen to allow himself, and the other staff, to be more interactive with the diners.
The menu will be changeable, with certain staples available daily. Everything is reminiscent of home-cooked meals and comfort food. Full breakfast options and pastries are available from 7-10:30 a.m. with lunch specials being served from 11 a.m. to 1:30 p.m.
Breakfast options may include biscuits and sausage gravy, breakfast tacos and skillets, French toast or pancakes, a bagel sandwich or the “classic” scrambled eggs with meat, potatoes and toast.
Matt added, “Izzy’s killing it with the pastries,” complimenting Izzy Musel who stocks the bakery case with cinnamon rolls the perfect size for sharing, a variety of muffins and cookies.
Heidi promises additional offerings as the season progresses, even teasing with the promise of homemade pies.
Gabby Lou’s Kitchen is open 7 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. Tuesday through Friday and from 8 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. on Saturdays. Estelle’s, opening for the season the third week of April, will be open for late afternoon and evening crowds.
Upcoming special events include a Mother’s Day brunch buffet. The fathers are out of the luck, however, as Matt will be celebrating out of town that weekend.
The Browns acknowledge that they will be busy running both restaurants, but are confident in their staff and in each other. “We always seem to figure it out,” said Heidi when reviewing their schedules.
When opening Gabby Lou’s, they called upon staff, friends and family who helped them open Estelle’s seven years ago. The “Estelle Originals” Luke Haugerud and Ryan Lee have come back to help the Browns as well as “local chef and dear friend” Eric Paulson. “He helped out a lot in our last push to get open,” Matt said. “We couldn’t have done it without him.”
They also give a lot of credit to Jim and Polly Harstad, Heidi’s parents, who helped watch their daughters, Stella and Gracie, and were in Gabby Lou’s “tinkering and cleaning” over the past several months.
There are a lot of familiar faces on the wait staff as well, as many have worked for the Browns at Estelle’s.
“We are excited to be open and excited to see what this place will evolve into,” Matt said. “Estelle’s is established. It is going to be what it has already become. Now, it seemed logical to expand our business and create something that can evolve into something else the community needs.”
The new restaurant has already received great support and Matt and Heidi are very grateful. “We wanted Gabby’s legacy to live on,” Matt said. “When we got this place, we always knew it would be hers, filled with that love and energy. We definitely feel this was meant to be.”