The chicken sandwich brought an influx of customers to the restaurant inside the Featherbone Communiversity off Chestnut Street after one of the cooks posted about it on Facebook. The buttermilk fried chicken, topped with sriracha mayonnaise, housemade habanero hot sauce, pickled green tomatoes and arugula was “pretty popular.”
“It got a pretty big response,” said Mark Hopkins, owner of the restaurant that’s been around for more than three years.
If you ask someone in Gainesville for an off-the-beaten-path restaurant recommendation, chances are pretty good they’ll point you in the direction of Hop’s. You may have a hard time finding your way to the restaurant, though. The only way to know where it’s at other than punching it into your GPS is to look for the small sign on the side of the road.
Hopkins said it’s not the ideal location, so “you’ve got to want to come here.”
“You can’t see it from the road,” Hopkins said. “We’re hidden.”
As business has grown over the years, Hopkins said he knows one of the main reasons why.
“It’s Gainesville, so it’s all word of mouth.”
Hopkins has been trying to bring something different to Gainesville ever since he opened. And for the most part, it seems like he’s been succeeding.
His menu is full of unique choices: The Hopanero, the Pork-etta, The Banh Mi and The ATL.
But he said Hop’s BLT and pastrami sandwiches are a couple of the most popular choices and that may be because of the restaurant’s bespoke bread.
The Momo Bread is Hop’s Kitchen’s specialty. It’s made in-house over a three-day process and the restaurant is the only place you can get it — it’s not for sale as loaves.
Hopkins said he got the 30-year-old recipe from his mother, and it’s one of the main reasons he opened the restaurant. He just had to give other people a taste.
“I’ll sell it one day, but it’s hard to keep up,” Hopkins said. “It’s a labor of love.”
He said it’s worth the labor because it’s not just a filler for some of his sandwiches.
“It’s real bread,” Hopkins said. “It’s not just texture … You can taste everything in it. It’s a sweet kind of potato bread.”
The first time Courtney Galendez, a junior nursing student at Brenau University, went to Hop’s, she split the grilled cheese with her friend. It’s served on Momo Bread.
But one of the reasons she went back was for the fries. That’s all she ordered when she stopped by Monday, Sept. 9.
“I like how it’s fresh,” Galendez said as the fries were set in front of her. “They don’t just stick it in the microwave … I like the flavor and they’re nice and crunchy.”
That’s because the fries are hand cut and fried twice in order to make them crunchy while keeping the inside soft. Hopkins said he tries to put that effort into all the food he offers because he feels like it’s a rarity nowadays.
“I feel like people have given up on food,” Hopkins said. “They just don’t care anymore … The cooks, there’s just no love there.”
He was recently in Wyoming on vacation for a week and said he only had a good meal once.
“People just don’t care anymore,” Hopkins said. “But we do.”
As Amy Provano took a bite of her Margherita Burger, she said she could tell Hopkins cares. It was her second time at the restaurant and was just as good as the first time she stopped by.
“I can tell the chef takes a personal interest in this,” Provano said. “I know when I come here it’s coming from someone who really cares about the food and I really like that.”
She said it’s refreshing to see something like Hop’s in Gainesville.
“It’s a unique menu to me, which is different for Gainesville,” Provano said.
But it took Galendez and her friend Kelly Edmonstone a few months to find Hop’s. Even though it's just down the road from where they take classes, they never knew it. Edmonstone said “it’s a little hole-in-the-wall, but it’s really good.”
“We have a lot of classmates who come here frequently,” Edmonstone said. “We would see the little boxes all the time. We just didn’t know what it was.”
They were seeing the paper boxes and bowls the restaurant packages all of its meals in and that’s something Hopkins hopes to change eventually. The goal has always been to open in a better location, and after being in business for almost four years, he’s hopeful.
“We want to get bigger,” Hopkins said. “I want to do dinner, brunch, a full restaurant with servers, real plates, silverware.”
There would be a bona fide space with tables and chairs dedicated to serving his customers.
Right now, unless you’re lucky enough to snag one of the picnic tables outside, you’ll be sitting in a conference room, under fluorescent lighting.
But if it’s good food, Provano’s husband Joel said it doesn't matter where he’s eating it.
“We mainly come for the food,” Joel Provano said.
Taking the time to make things like the Momo bread and the sauces that go on the sandwiches or even the house-cured bacon or house-made pork rinds is what Hopkins prides himself on and likely the reason Hop’s is some people’s hidden gem.
“I’m just trying to do something different,” Hopkins said. “We care about the ingredients and try to make everything from scratch.”