A step inside Lil’ Deb’s Oasis (located in Hudson, New York) is transformative. From the diner-like facade to the flowering, pastels and patterns inside, guests are welcomed into a celebration of community and artistry. As much as the venue can be classified as a restaurant (one that serves up superb food), it also happens to be an art installation and, most importantly, a beacon of visibility for diversity. It’s a familial in many ways, and guided by artist-chefs Carla Perez-Gallardo and Hannah Black.
Previous occupant Debbie Fiero, owner of former Debbie’s Lil’ Restaurant, gave the space to Perez-Gallardo and Black when she retired. The duo had been hosting an art pop-up inside, and she’d fallen for their vision—regarding food, design and ethos. NYC-based photographer Emily Metzguer felt the same way: transfixed by the entire staff and the environment they foster. Through repeat visits, Metzguer began to take portraits of those bringing it all to life.
“It’s owned and operated by women, inclusive to the existing community, sourcing ingredients locally, physically creating a space for the community to gather—where POC and LGBTQ+ people are welcome and celebrated,” Metzguer explains about the attraction. The energy and vibrance from the staff and decor is captured in her work. “The vibe is welcoming,” she adds, “The experience is playful, but visibility is what’s most important.”
“They have built something that feels rare and special,” she continues, also taken by the humble nature of the chef-artists. “They talk often of the their clan/team/chosen family, and how they couldn’t do it without them. There’s such humility to this statement—and it’s true. We cannot do this life alone; it is our families, blood and chosen, our support systems that enable us.” Her portraits burst with color and charisma—replicating the way we all feel when in the company of those we love.
Photos by Emily Metzguer