The Poor Porker, a vintage outdoor venue known for its beignets and live music, announced it is closing its doors after a farewell party on July 3 to make way for Unfiltered Lakeland, a “coffeehouse, marketplace, eventspace” scheduled to open later this year.
According to a Poor Porker Facebook post, the farewell party will coincide with the city of Lakeland’s Red, White, and Kaboom fireworks celebration. The party will kick off with brunch offered by Our Noire Kitchen from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m., followed by the Poor Porker offering gourmet grilled hot dogs. According to the post, live music performed by Daniel Pepin will begin at 6 p.m., and will continue until the fireworks show over Lake Mirror, which begins at 9 p.m. Customers can view the fireworks from the Poor Porker courtyard free of charge.
Geanie Folder, 60, of Valrico, said the new venue she is opening at 801 E. Main St. will offer food, art, retail, entertainment and serve as an event space.
“We anticipate this whole experience of being able to shop there, being able to rent for events, coming for art classes, food all the time, beer and wine, coffee because we’ll have an expresso bar, and then our open fire cooking,” she said.
Folder’s goal is to open in October, but she said upcoming meetings with city of Lakeland officials will give her a better idea of a timeline for opening. The plan is to be open five or six days a week during the day and then be open in the evenings on Fridays and Saturdays. After a year of negotiating, she said she signed a long-term lease with the owners of the property, Wesley, and Ashley Barnett.
“It’s exciting. The location, the building, the physical building, and the courtyard could not be any better,” Folder said.
Folder said she will bring open-fire cooking to Unfiltered Lakeland on Saturday nights, a concept she said is popular in Washington state. She believes that is what will set it apart from other restaurants and venues in town.
“It’s a lot of work and we’re going to go out to Washington to learn from the best. It’s pretty trendy out on that side of the states … I was trying to reach out and really find a niche that people could get behind,” Folder said, adding that it will be a “refined cowboy way of cooking [where] food will be served right off the fire. “
To bring the concept to life, she’s collaborating with chef Robin Ireland. They will stay in a cabin and embark on a five-day trip to Washington where they’ll learn about open-fire cooking. Folder is installing an outdoor kitchen in the courtyard, along with converting some of the campers onsite to eating cabanas.
“As far as how it looks now, it will be very different. We are keeping the beignets. The beignets are our homage to the Poor Porker. Our intention is and never will be to wipe the slate clean of the Poor Porker,” Folder said.
Folder also plans to add lush landscaping, mister fans, and expand the bar to give it a “homey feel.”
“We view it as home and you’re coming over and we got some music and we’re going to pull your steak off the fire or ribs or whatever it is that is in season,” Folder envisioned, adding that a sense of home is important to her because she grew up homeless.
“We want you to feel the warmth and the love and the belonging,” Folder said.
Her design includes adding some smaller buildings in the courtyard, possibly shipping containers, and leasing them to vendors who will then sell their merchandise.
“It’s kind of this tight-knit group of people. We’ve been doing stuff together for years and we just now have this hub to do together.”
Similar to her other venues, Unfiltered Bartow and Unfiltered Punta Gorda, Folder plans to work with numerous vendors including Ethos Roasters, Our Noire Kitchen, Bandidas Lakeland, DOU Bakehouse, Uncle Nick’s Bagels, Vintage Warehouse, Luka Blue Vintage, East of These, My Crazy Plant Life, Castles in the Air, Rebel Juju, the Beatnik Exchange, along with her own line of merchandise, called Unfiltered Living. Many of the vendors are members of the Catapult Lakeland business incubator. She said she’s still looking for a few more retail partners.
Folder said the Poor Porker staff will not lose their jobs and have agreed to work for Unfiltered Lakeland.
Former partners Robyn Wilson and Jarrid Masse along with Wesley and Ashley Barnett opened the Poor Porker on Nov. 7, 2015. The business faced internal conflict in 2019 when cofounder and primary creative talent Robyn Wilson was dismissed over profitability concerns.
As to why the Poor Porker closed, Folder said she was given the opportunity to manage it for the past three months and said it attracted little traffic.
“It’s been a hard struggle because we don’t have a lot of traffic. I’m not quite sure why that is but I believe part of that reason is there’s nothing to offer there except for beignets and the occasional food person that comes in with a food truck and of course beer and wine,” Folder said.
She believes her business model will have more success due to its fire-side dinners and retail vendors, making it more experience based.
“It’s just this beautiful experience of everyone dining together and loving on each other and especially where our world is today, I think we need more opportunity to be able to do that. I don’t see that a lot . People are so cautious now and so internal and the world hasn’t stopped. The world needs to continue to move on with love and friendship and kindness and you do that around a table of food,” Folder said.
“I think it’ll turn a corner in Lakeland for that reason … The expectation is we’re all friends here.”
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