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The road to Mother Road Market

Photos by Precious Alexander

The year is 1901 and with the turn of the century comes a turn in Tulsa’s economy. Workers in Red Fork, a community in Southwest Tulsa, strike oil. The black gold would change the fate of Oklahoma’s second largest city from a town surrounded by miles of cotton fields and hay pastures to one of skyscrapers and seasons of economic boom.

Jump ahead to the year 1958 and the first QuikTrip has a grand opening on Brookside. The shiny, red convenience store will struggle for years, almost failing, before it becomes a franchise.

It’s 1966 and John H. Williams decides to take a colossal risk on his family’s pipeline business—a risk that could have cost the company everything. Instead, it propelled the company into The Williams Companies, Inc., which would become a prolific organization within its industry as well as the driving force behind downtown Tulsa’s revitalization in the 70s.

Today, many think Tulsa’s entrepreneurial renaissance is a recent trend led by the beanie-wearing, coffee-shop generation. The reality, though, is that the Tulsa of today is a city built on big dreams and bigger loans. Downtown, Brookside and other places known and loved, are not trends but testaments to a city where entrepreneurship is a language and ideas are the currency.

More recently, George Kaiser Family Foundation helped to fund the Gathering Place, a massive park outfitted with castles and sports fields and a lazy river running throughout. The Lobeck Taylor Family Foundation (LTFF) funded and oversaw the building of Mother Road Market, Tulsa’s first food hall on the corner of 11th and Lewis Ave.

Mother Road Market transports customers back to the Renaissance of Tulsa as it stretches approximately 27,000 feet in a structure formerly occupied by Scrivner-Stevens Co. Grocery in 1939. Red brick is covered with murals scattering throughout the building and the front and back porches. The back porch also offers plenty of seating and Route 66 inspired mini-golf, all under string lights that create their own constellations after sunset.

Tulsa’s Mother Road Market blends innovation and history throughout the concepts and design.

LTFF incorporated the market into another one of their projects called Kitchen 66, an incubation kitchen where food entrepreneurs can be coached on restaurant formation, marketing and other foundational concepts for food retailers.

“We’ve always had the focal point that entrepreneurship in food has a real need for extra measures of support to foster an ideal environment for food business to take root,” said Jeff Thompson, General Manager of Mother Road Market.

Kitchen 66 will have a commercial kitchen away from the public in the very back of Mother Road Market. Currently, five of the 20 vendors in the market are graduates of Kitchen 66. The others are either new food entrepreneurs or are established but testing out a new concept, such as Lone Wolf’s, a popular Asian-fusion restaurant in downtown Tulsa, and the new Nashville chicken concept called Chicken and the Wolf.

“I think we have a chance here to show how collaboration and community can spur on success,” said Thompson.

Mother Road Market is just another marker on Tulsa’s continuing marriage of industry and art. From Mother Road Market to the rows of bright QuikTrips, you can see the drive to not only be a big city but to be the best city for those who call Tulsa home.