Food & Wine // 5 min Read

Henny Penny

Written by Kristen Constantineau; Photography by Anne, Inc.

Aug 10, 2021


“The sky is falling! The sky is falling!”

Or so said little Henny Penny in the classic children’s tale of the same name. A beloved story more commonly known in the United States as Chicken Little, Henny Penny is a European folktale about a chicken that believes the world is coming to an end after an acorn hits her on the head.

And while it may have seemed like little Henny Penny was right and the world was indeed coming to an end in 2020, this story is not one of morals or doomsday. Sure, it includes a familiar cast of characters, but this is a story where the fox is not the villain, but more of a mother hen.

But enough about folktales. This story actually begins with a fox.

Being a right-brained creative with an artistic flair—not to mention a coffee lover with two children—it wasn’t long before I discovered this hidden gem in downtown Savannah. Located just a few blocks from Forsyth Park and offering made-from-scratch baked goods, sandwiches, and coffee from renowned Savannah-roasted Perc Coffee, Henny Penny is a family-friendly art space that caters to both parents and children.
(A win-win if you ask me.)

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With brightly colored paintings of the classic Henny Penny characters adorning the walls, a large chalkboard perfect for doodling, shelves of crafting items including beads and feathers, and rows of tables covered in paint splatters left behind by petite Picassos, the art “side” of Henny Penny beckons little ones to drop their electronic devices and create a one-of-a-kind masterpiece. And while they’re coloring or crafting or doodling away to their hearts’ content, parents are able to relax knowing their children are free to express themselves . . . all while enjoying a little free time themselves with, perhaps, a sweet treat, sandwich, coffee, or mimosa (yes, please!).

And because I’m also all about their mission of supporting the “parent tribe,” I wanted to introduce others to this unique stress-free environment where parents can actually find a moment to relax or have that much-needed coffee break with a friend because your kids can wander about, have fun, and just be creative (without a side eye in sight).

So, I sat down with Jennifer Jenkins, owner of Henny Penny Art Space & Café , over—what else—coffee to learn the story of her Henny Penny.

Originally from Texas but a self-proclaimed Navy brat who was raised all over the United States, Jen credits her grandmother Mildred Fox (the original “Foxy Loxy”) with the inspiration behind her four Savannah-based businesses: Foxy Loxy, described as equal parts coffee shop, bakery, and Tex-Mex cantina; The Coffee Fox (with two locations), a chic coffee house offering espresso drinks and pour-overs, plus pastries, cheese plates, wine, and beer; and the newest addition to the Foxy family, Fox & Fig, a vegan café featuring a creative plant-based menu crafted from locally sourced and seasonal ingredients.

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“We started with Foxy Loxy and then we opened The Coffee Fox, that was second, pretty quick back-to-back. And then I had probably a good five years where I just stuck with Foxy Loxy and The Coffee Fox,” Jen says.

But the foxes were growing out of their dens.

“The initial driving force to open Henny Penny is that we were outgrowing our space in our kitchen, and we needed a place for our bakery team. We need[ed] to open a place for our bakers. From there it went to just finding the right building. And it just happened to be that the right building was four blocks away from Foxy.”

And according to Jen, finding a building with a commercial kitchen already built out was like “trying to find a unicorn.” And so, she and co-owner Anjelica Lee had to go with it.

Head baker at Foxy Loxy Anjel “was going to be managing all the cafés and the bakery team . . . all of that very challenging work of being the general manager,” Jen says. And she was going to be doing it all from this new location.

With Anjel managing the team behind an already-established family of fox-named businesses, Jen knew that she wanted to build on the brand and keep the “fox” connection, yet she also knew that she needed to make this new space different enough from Foxy Loxy just down the street.

And being a fairly new mom to son, Ison, she also knew that she wanted this new space to be more of a kid-focused place where parents and kids alike could gather. So, what do you do when you’ve already got a successful business named after a well-known storybook character (albeit the villain)? You delve further into the story and introduce the protagonist.

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Welcome to Henny Penny. It’s fun and playful (and a place where Jen can let out her “inner Francophile”), and it’s the perfect companion to her spicy sibling down the street, Tex-Mex café Foxy Loxy.

“I come from an art background and a lot of what we would talk about is a piece being a slow read. And so, I think of Henny Penny as a slow read, where you first come in contact with it, but then gradually if you get all the connections it’s like an aha moment. With Foxy and Coffee Fox established, I could take a few risks with Henny Penny,” Jen reflects.

With a space and a name, it was now time for Jen to figure out how she was going to differentiate from Foxy and cater to the younger crowd.

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Enter Carrie Christian from Scribble Art Studio. Fellow Savannah College of Art and Design (SCAD) graduate and part of Jen’s mom tribe with two small children herself, Carrie was looking to add “something for the parents” to her kids’ art studio on 37th Street. Knowing Jen excelled at coffee, she approached her with an idea.

“Carrie’s idea solved the problem for me of like ‘We’re super close to Foxy, how do we differentiate ourselves and have it still be needed on this block?’ She was all for it,” she says.

So, with Jen’s background in specialty coffee and Carrie’s in the kids’ art world, it was another match made in storybook heaven.

And on April 7, 2017, Henny Penny hatched.

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And like with any new fledgling, it’s been a long growth process. After three years of building their “slow read” with Henny Penny, it had finally clicked with people and become profitable. They made big plans to celebrate their three-year birthday in April 2020 (with a Parisian/French carnival theme), but then came COVID-19. And for some, it did appear that the sky was falling.

“We never did shut down. The first phase was ending all the inside activity and ending all the art stuff,” she says. Food orders were placed inside while patrons then waited outside for their order. But what about the art? What about the one thing that differentiated Henny Penny from all of her other businesses? Jen was scared that they were losing their mission of supporting the parent tribe.

“Carrie would try different kits, and none of it was working,” Jen says. “She then finally came up with ‘let’s try this outdoor studio time on Sundays.’ And even that . . . everything takes a while to build and get people into their new habits, especially families, into new routines.”

But it worked. Regulars began returning to the Henny Penny nest once again for that much-needed creative outlet and outdoor family time. Even with mask mandates and social distancing rules and requirements, they found a way to continue their art activities and offer families a place where the parent and the child can enjoy themselves.

So, what’s next for Henny Penny? Well, I won’t give away the ending, but let’s just say that the sky is the limit (perhaps figuratively and literally).

But for now, it’s back to a slow read.

“The positive side of COVID is that everything got quiet for a second and peaceful, and I start[ed] questioning why everything had to be so much. Why can’t we just enjoy coffee and art . . . and a courtyard? I think for me personally coming out of this, I want to be very picky about what we reintroduce in that’s special [and] different. Aside from doing what we really do every single day in a really good rhythm and just being good humans. Why can’t that be enough?” Jen wonders.

And while being a good human and tending to her young business is Jen’s priority, she’s always looking for more ways to infuse art into the programming at Henny Penny while supporting the parent tribe and the local Savannah community.

Pop-ups with E. Shaver Booksellers. Collaborations with libraries. Music. A train to Foxville. And maybe even some puppets. •

Visit Henny Penny at 1514 Bull Street in downtown Savannah or online at hennypennycafe.com. In addition to their workshops, open studio, custom-designed arts and crafts kits, and specialty food and drink items, including their staple kolaches, paninis, vegan donuts, and wine and beer, it’s a great place for parents and kids to just sit . . . and enjoy coffee and art.

Read the original story in the Spring / Summer 2021 edition of the bluff.

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