Editor's note: This story is part of Southwest Michigan Second Wave's On the Ground Vine Neighborhood series.
At this hidden spot on Davis Street, hoodies are encouraged, children are not, and being cool is a requirement for entry.
What exactly is Hoodies? Hoodies is a restaurant in a living room in the Vine. You have to be in the know to eat there, but once you’ve done so, it’s hard to get a meal at Hoodies off your mind.
Before walking in the door, there are a few things that you should know. The rules of engagement are listed on each table in the dining room, spelled out in pink slanting font across a laminated card to greet guests as they sit down.
Rule One says that when eating at Hoodies you are a participant in a “live experience, crowdsourcing fundraising event” whose volunteers depend on donations for their time. Rule Two states that “if you are fatally allergic to any foods, you should stand up and walk directly back out of the house.” Rule Three is “Try not to bring any children in here” and rule four is of course, “Be Cool.”
The tiny and exceptionally pink living room turned dining room is the culinary brainchild of Sherri, a Vine neighborhood resident who goes by Sherri Palooza. Hoodies itself is small, only large enough to hold three socially distanced tables, and Palooza’s larger-than-life personality easily fills up the rest of the space. During a meal at Hoodies, she can be heard laughing and chatting with customers when she’s not busy cooking up something in the kitchen. Even when Palooza, a self-described “cool chick who’s just out to conquer the world,” disappears behind the gauzy white curtain which separates the front and back of the house (the dining room and the kitchen), her faithful red-nosed pitbull, Princess Bowser, makes sure that guests are never left alone for long.
During a meal at Hoodies, Sherri Palooza can be heard laughing and chatting with customers when she’s not busy cooking up something in the kitchen.
Palooza herself is a vision of pink, from the bright pink braids in her hair to the glass of rosé she sometimes sips, kept cool by a floating pink plastic ice cube that mirrors the pink walls of the dining room.
For Palooza, the color pink represents affluence and power. She points out that pink dye historically was considered a luxury. “Way back in the day, the less earthy the color was, the more baller you were. It meant that you had extra, that dye money, like ‘I got that pinkberry money, son!’” she joked, referencing one of her favorite ingredients, Pink Crunchberry, a breakfast cereal that often features prominently at Hoodies in brunch items or desserts. Hoodies’ popular Pink Crunchberry French Toast, in fact, is her favorite item on the menu.
Palooza’s personality is as bright as the walls in the dining room at Hoodies and is on display in every facet of her restaurant--from the decor, to the food, to the prolific and savvy social media posts that keep loyal customers up to date about the ever-changing specials and hours at Hoodies. Before opening Hoodies, Palooza had over two decades of experience working in the restaurant industry. She got tired of working for those who did not share her vision for dining and customer service.
After many years of fantasizing about opening a restaurant in her home, she made the dream a reality in July of 2019. At first everything just fell into place, but things have slowed down a bit since the pandemic hit. Most indoor dining has shifted to take out, which Palooza says is fine with her because it means fewer dishes to wash.
Princess Bowser is Sherri's faithful red-nosed pitbull.
Although Palooza’s cooking chops are on display as the chef/owner at Hoodies and she enjoys whipping up what she refers to as “lazy stoner food” with a whimsical (and often pink) twist, her heart truly lies in the front of the house where she says she takes pleasure in making guests feel like they’re, well, right at home.
Tyler Harris, a 24-year-old Kalamazoo resident, is one such loyal customer. Harris estimates that between take out and dining in, he has eaten Hoodies’ food between two and five times a week since he first heard about it from his mother a year or so ago. “(My mom) just told me about how awesome (Palooza’s) restaurant was and ever since I’ve just been a huge fan,” says Harris, who has tried every dish on the menu and describes Palooza’s cooking enthusiastically as “Good mood food.”
“The environment, the hospitality, the way she has Hoodies set up I think is super unique and cool. It’s just a chill atmosphere. You can bring your friends and just chat it up,” says Harris. “She’s always playing some good tunes. She’s got an amazing dog. She’s always doing new specials, which I dig. It’s always interesting.”
Harris names the Monte Cristo as his favorite menu item, but adds, “I love her Quesadilla. Her Kickin’ Chicken is phenomenal! I just had her Mac and Cheese the other night and that was killer. I really enjoy her breakfast too. She can whip up a mean breakfast!”
One of the pink dishes on the menu is Crunchberry French Toast.
As for the origin of the name Hoodies, Palooza says that it was inspired by her first roommate in Kalamazoo. “She came home from the Wayside (a now-closed bar on Stadium) one night. She was very drunk and upset because they didn’t let her in because she was wearing a hoodie.” Palooza remembers her roommate joking, “One day I’m going to open my own place and it’s going to be called Hoodies and everybody has
to wear a hoodie!” Now that Palooza has opened up her own place, the name has stuck and wearing a hoodie or T-shirt from Hoodies when dining there on Mondays will not only get you in the door, but also “a free dessert or appetizer with your order of other stuff.”
Shortly after opening the door to Hoodies, Palooza experimented with recipes and worked on developing her business plan through the Can-Do Kitchen
, a food business incubator in Kalamazoo that works to help entrepreneurs build foundations and remove barriers to food business ownership. Sheena Foster, the director of operations at Can-Do Kitchen, met Palooza when the latter joined Can-Do Camp (a 16-week food business incubation program) in the fall of 2019.
Foster says “I know Hoodies is a project very close to Sherri's heart and is just the beginning of a dream she's been dedicated to for years. As part of Can-Do Camp, Sherri brought in little mini tacos she'd been experimenting with. Not only were they delicious, but they were also adorable, creative, and fun--which is exactly how I would describe Sherri.”
Palooza, who says that Hoodies is “in cahoots” with the city, and operates with the blessing of city officials, recalls how she first got connected with Can-Do Kitchen. “The city planner and developer was so impressed that they gave me a scholarship to the Can-Do Camp, and he was recommended to me by the property inspector, who was also really impressed.” Palooza says that “without the interface of Kalamazoo officials I wouldn't be where I am today. And I am very proud
to live in a city that cares more about fulfilling the dreams and possibilities of its residents as opposed to shutting them down.”
Lighting keeps the pink theme going at Hoodies.
Scott Bouldrey is another local food entrepreneur better known as The Cheesecake Guy
(he says it’s easier for customers to remember than his last name). Bouldrey also participated in Can-Do Camp and is responsible for some of the colorful and inventive desserts that round off a meal at Hoodies. Bouldrey began making the Pink Strawberry Swirl Bread used in a Hoodies specialty, The Zoo’s Most Stonerific Breakfast Sandwich, when local grocery stores stopped carrying the mass-produced version.
“Sherri is a blast, there’s no other way to describe her,” says Bouldrey. “She’s a hoot. That's what she is. She’s always bubbly and happy and colorful, in style and in character, so she’s just fun to work with.”
Palooza says that the hardest part about opening a restaurant in her living room has been that the one bathroom in her house now also doubles as a restroom for customers. She’s looking forward to the day, she says, when Hoodies can transition to a larger, more established location in the Vine. “If anybody wants to donate or like, hook anything up, or invest, just imagine what I can do with money and space if this
is what I’ve done with no money and no space!”
How to find Hoodies
Want to dine at Hoodies?
Since Hoodies is not officially advertised, potential customers have to hear about it through word-of-mouth or check out Palooza’s Instagram account. “If people want the address, they have to message the Instagram
page directly,” says Palooza, “Unless they know someone who knows. It’s the only way to find out.”
To donate to Hoodies click here
. “All proceeds go directly to making sure that Hoodies doesn’t fall apart while the world figures out how to do the same.”
Photos by Taylor Scamehorn. See more of her work here.