Food, life and love that cuts across cultures
Henni’s kitchen and bar is the labor of love of Christiaan Erasmus and Sarah Morton-Erasmus. The two met at a wedding in 2002, and after knowing each other for just two days, decided to get married. Living in Hood River at the time, Christiaan immediately moved New York to “fetch” Sarah, and there they began their working relationship at the Greenwich Village Bistro. But they didn’t last long in the Big Apple. Shortly thereafter, Christiaan was offered a position back in Hood River at Abbruzzo Italian Kitchen where he and Sarah continued their working partnership, Christiaan as sous-chef and Sarah as bartender.
Two restaurants later, Christiaan and Sarah were presented the opportunity to have their own place. On February 10, 2010, Henni’s opened its doors and has been open seven days a week ever since.
Christiaan Erasmus, or Kees as he’s called in his home country of South Africa (Kees, means “little baboon,” hence the monkey in the logo!), started his culinary career at the age of 2, when he discovered that eating snails fresh from the garden with salt was a delightful delicacy. At 16, he was cooking in commercial kitchens. His mentor at the time, Massimo, taught him a valuable lesson, one he’s never forgotten: “Nino, steal with your eyes! In the kitchen, all you need to know about food is there, and if you stay aware and curious you can learn to be a great chef.”
Christiaan continued to enjoy food and feeding people until it became the thing he knew how to do best. In 1996, he came to the US to explore the vast culinary landscape from San Francisco to New York eventually coming to Hood River in 2001 where he fell in love with the Gorge. “The geography here reminds me of home. In South Africa, the landscape is big and demands your attention, and the Gorge is the same. This landscape plays such a central role in our lives here. It leaves its mark on us, on our food, wine, and the way we live.”
In addition to her prowess as restaurateur, hostess and bartender, Sarah is a highly skilled metalsmith and jeweler. Born in Oregon to two artist parents, Sarah has been soldering and designing metal objects since she was 12 years old. She received a Bachelor of Fine Art from the University of Oregon in Metalsmithing & Jewelry. It’s no surprise then, that the atmosphere at Henni’s is infused with her creativity. “When we were building Henni’s, I’d envisioned it to be like an old world gentleman’s club: a place to exchange ideas and insights, comfortable, but masculine; luxurious in texture and color, but utilitarian. Unfortunately our budget wasn’t quite as luxurious. We couldn’t afford half the things we needed. So I scrounged lighting, booths, chairs, plates, and cutlery from junk stores and resale outlets. Nothing was new; it was all salvaged. I made the lights and just did the best I could with what I had at the time.” The end result is surprisingly close to Sarah’s original vision. Henni’s is a warm and inviting place that exudes lived-in charm.
Henni’s is named after Christiaan’s father, Hendrick Johanus Erasmus, or “Hennie” for short, who was a supreme court judge, lawyer, and scholar in South Africa. “When we started talking about starting our own business, Hennie offered to give us a small, but significant sum to help us get things started,” says Sarah. “We wouldn’t have been able to open Henni’s without this generous gift, and that’s why we named it after him. Sadly he passed away this year (2016) and looking back I’m so happy we made that decision. He was an incredible man, who loved his family, and had a very influential career as a high court judge in South Africa, and helped to redefine the country’s judicial system post apartheid. Henni’s Kitchen and Bar now stands in commemoration of his life, and we are so proud that it continues to flourish with his name.”
Sarah’s father, Rex Morton, an accomplished artist and metalsmith, also left his mark on the establishment. He helped Sarah upholster all the chairs and booths and together they built two of the most distinguishing features in the restaurant: the bar and molded copper table tops.
Henni’s Kitchen and Bar has always been eclectic, from its menu to its décor to its patrons—a true reflection of the intriguing mix of salt-of-the-earth locals and worldly travelers who visit and live and work and play in the Gorge. From the moment you walk inside, you see the luster of copper from the table tops to the bar. You hear the sound of laughter and celebration. You smell the aromas of worlds near and far. You can feel the dynamic texture of hand-wrought lumber salvaged from a local building. It’s a relaxed atmosphere for celebrating with both family and friends.