As part of Birkenstock’s 1774 collaboration series, Document Journal meets 10 creatives making the Hudson Valley a kingdom of their own. Here, the Lil' Deb's Oasis founders prove delicious, acclaimed food doesn’t have to be stuffy.
Discover the full Birkenstock 1774 collaboration series here.
On Columbus Street, the quiet main drag in Hudson, New York, sits Lil’ Deb’s Oasis, a roadside diner turned acclaimed multihyphenate community establishment: a restaurant-art installation-performance venue. Founded by Hannah Black and Carla Perez-Gallardo, Lil’ Deb’s Oasis has become a can’t-miss Hudson destination, home of full fried fish, assorted colorful plants, and “the spirit of matriarchy.” Lil’ Deb’s warm vibes aren’t just the result of the coral pink decor. The openness and accessibility of the space is fundamental to its DNA, from the direct relationships they have with the local suppliers who provide farm-fresh ingredients to the Hudson artists and traveling foodies who call Lil’ Deb’s Oasis home away from home.
In its short but colorful existence, Lil’ Deb’s has become not just a local landmark but a nationally acclaimed restaurant. Their irreplicable blend of tropical, South American-inspired comfort foods earned them a James Beard nomination this year. But the Lil’ Deb’s founders aren’t in the game for the critical praise: “We felt like opening this restaurant, it was more than a restaurant, it’s like a platform or a creative space, and we wanted to share that with our friends,” says Black. Lil’ Deb’s Oasis began relatively simply in 2015, when Black and Perez-Gallardo started serving family-style meals a few nights a week at a breakfast and lunch diner in Hudson called Debbie’s. When the diner closed for the day around 11am, the pair would set about transforming the space: gelling over the lights, bringing in a sound system, swapping out the art on the walls.
When the owner retired last January and asked Black and Perez-Gallardo if they wanted to take over full time, it was a no-brainer. Friends and community members joined forces with the founders, working 17 hour days together to get the place ready for opening. “That was something that was important to us. It was important that our hand was in it and people in our community also could feel themselves in it,” Black says. “What’s so special about this place is that it has that hand and that touch that’s warm, and homemade, and a little wonky,” Perez-Gallardo adds.
Black and Perez-Gallardo spoke with Document about Hudson’s secret swimming holes, candy pink cloudy skies, and the exquisite feeling of not needing to be anywhere else but home.
Document—Why do you live upstate? How does it differ from the city?
Hannah—I love the upstate lifestyle. It’s a different kind of hustle here. Our friends all work for themselves or run small businesses, which makes for a very supportive, collaborative, and inspiring community. I feel like my social circle is actually more diverse and expansive than it was in the city—there are fewer people, so you can really get to know everyone in a more intimate way.
Document—Describe your perfect day in the Hudson Valley.
Hannah—It would definitely involve bringing a picnic to a secret swimming spot, spending the day soaking up the sun and cooling off in the water, followed by an impromptu backyard BBQ at a friend’s house.
Carla—Totally agree with Hannah! My perfect Hudson Valley day involves a lot of lounging by water or surrounded by nature and my best friends. There’s definitely an abundance of snacks and delicious wine, local fruits and vegetables, some really good cheeses—and it’s midsummer. Or it’s fall, and I’m walking through the woods with a lover, and it’s still warm enough to wear a t-shirt and we have plans to make a slow dinner when we get home. And if I’m being perfectly honest a small dose of mushrooms wouldn’t hurt.
Document—What can you find living in upstate New York that you can’t find anywhere else?
Carla—Absolutely unreal, gorgeous clouds—one of the major reasons the Hudson River School of early American painters chose this very area as it’s home.
Document—What’s your most inspiring season upstate?
Carla—I’m 100 percent a summer girl. It’s when my energy is full force, the restaurant is busiest, and the produce is juicy and abundant. It’s also when I feel the most productive and the most exhausted but in a sexy, adrenaline-fueled, bone-tired kind of way. I also love the curve upwards from winter into spring, when naked branches start showing tiny green buds and you can wear just your t-shirt for the first time.
Document—How do you feel when you return upstate after being away?
Hannah—A sigh of relief. I love the feeling of pulling into my driveway and knowing that I don’t need to be anywhere else.
Hair and Make up Mimi Quiquine at She Likes Cutie. Editor Austin Bailey. Sound Greg Francis. Color Oliver Eid. Photo Assistant Annabelle Snoxall. Production Liana Blum and Patch Ward.