Michaela Dockery never envisioned opening a wine bar during a pandemic, but that’s exactly what she’ll do when she throws open the doors on Hen House Wine Bar in six short weeks. We recently caught up with this self-described “serial creator” to find out more about this fun new concept and how it will offer a fresh option for a night out in Memphis. Meet the contagiously positive and incredibly endearing Michaela Dockery, our newest FACE of Memphis!
Where did the idea for Hen House Wine Bar come from?
Last summer, my husband Dee and I were sitting in California at this great restaurant and tasting room, and we thought, Why don’t we bring something like this to Memphis? The next day we got on the phone with Fletcher Elkington, and he started looking for a space for us. A few months later we were signing a lease on three different buildings next door to each other with three different vibes.
Also, almost six years ago I got sick. I went through 15 major surgeries and treatment off and on for five years. My girlfriends instantly worked to bring comfort and joy to me during some of my darkest times, and my hospital rooms and bedroom quickly became babe caves (haha!). There would be months and months in bed, and the girls brought the fun to me. They even kidnapped me once, pain pump and all, and hauled me to Houston’s just so I could enjoy the experience of being out and having my favorite staple — a good burger with French fries and prosecco. At home, we would pile in the bed, and whenever Dee got home from work, he would always say, “Oh the hens have gathered again.”
When we started branding, I instantly thought of Hen House because this concept is an extension of our home, and the hens will definitely be gathering!
You describe Hen House as an “unpretentious wine bar focused on bringing togetherness and memories through wine and food!” How will you create an unpretentious experience?
Wine can be scary! I think that we would have so many more people drinking and experiencing wine if it wasn’t so intimidating. There is SO much to learn about wine and so much wine to try. It can be really overwhelming, that’s for sure, and it is hard knowing where to start. That is where we come in.
Once seated, the fun starts. We will have question cards you can fill out so that we can get an idea of what you might like. From there, we build a personalized wine experience for you, tasting different wines that we think you will enjoy, as well as the option of pairing cheese, chocolate, or some of our incredible dishes. We will have wine diaries that you can write notes in for your keeping, and by the time you’re done with your experience, we hope to have new friends who share our passion for wine. And if you’re already a wine lover and know what you love, we will be ready to pour it.
We will also have private tasting experiences available to book in our glass wine cellar, which will be loads of fun for everyone. Once a month we will have brown bag tastings, which are a total blast and can be pretty surprising once you unveil the bottles. Last but not least, we have a great wine club to roll out. We will have pick-up parties for wine club members once a month a few days before we do the actual tasting — the option of virtual tasting or in-house tasting — and pairings. We simply want to have fun with wine.
Tell us about the wine selection. Where do you source them, and what are some of the standout selections?
The selecting of the wines has been so much fun. We have been tasting for months and months and have worked really hard on creating an offering that has something for everyone. I wanted the list to be diverse, delicious, and unique. We will have plenty of familiar wines, but we also will have many wines you have never heard of. You may only drink one specific pinot, but our hope is to get you to try something new. There’s nothing to lose! I want to show our guests that good wine doesn’t mean the bottle has to be expensive. Yes, some of my favorite bottles are a bit pricey, but I have so many wines that I have discovered that blow you away when you see how inexpensive the bottles can be. It’s all about the quality of the fruit, how the wine is made, how much love goes into it, and how closely the process is watched.
I have a love for boutique style wineries. Due to smaller batches, they are able to really give attention to their wine. This past year I collaborated with three winemakers I met in California, and we produced three different wines that I cannot wait to share with our guests! What an experience it was to walk through a vineyard at 4 a.m., watch the fruit be harvested, stomp on it a few hours later, and watch it go into the press. It really gives you a whole new respect for winemakers and what they do.
We also have an incredible mixologist Tony Nguyen, who is creating a very impressive cocktail menu. He’s taking cocktails to a whole new level. We will even have beautiful mocktails.
And what about the food?
I wanted California flair and elevated Southern comfort to collide. That’s exactly what our Executive Chef Matt Schweitzer has created for us. Matt is young, creative, and passionate about creating this food experience for Memphis. We will have lots of family-share small plate options, but also the option to upsize to a full entrée. I wanted to once again have something for everyone. If you’re vegan, keto, vegetarian, gluten-free, etc., we’ve got you. I didn’t want to leave anyone out.
From your California flair, you have options like buffalo-style tempura cauliflower bites, spring rolls, black bean sliders, southwest egg rolls, flatbread pizzas, whipped feta dips, salads, etc., to your elevated Southern-style options like roasted duck, shrimp and grits, chicken and dumplings, Beef Wellington, and of course our signature chicken and biscuits. We will have weekly fresh seafood specials as well. Last but not least we have a killer late-night menu, and we will be open until 3 a.m. on the weekends. [There will be] juicy burgers, fancy grilled cheese, and loaded chicken nachos to name a few things. Matt saw our vision instantly and has created so many delicious options. He has such a gift for making things taste magical!
You hinted on your IG that you have some amazing projects forthcoming. Can you tell us about those?
I can tell you one, but the rest is a secret! I collaborated with some winemakers last year and will be revealing that label very soon. Harvest is in a few weeks, and we will be harvesting fruit for my very own label. I am working on the label design as we speak, and I cannot wait to share it! The rest is a secret, but I can tease you with this: We are also creating something next door to us on the left and next door to us on the right.
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What’s your best piece of advice?
Always work on your inside more than your outside. When I lost all ability to workout (something that was very important to me), a dear friend told me, “If only people would realize how important it is to work on your inside compared to your outside.” That hit me like a ton of bricks, and I will never forget it. Now that I am able to be active for the time being, my rule is that I must always work my inside out first, and longer than my outside. It’s a game-changer.
Aside from faith, family and friends, what are three things you can’t live without?
Mmm, that’s a good one! Wine. Pilates. My Barefoot Dreams blanket.
All photography by Elizabeth Scott.