Along with old friends, sisters Coleen Speaks and Erin Barnett host an Easter meal full of delicious food — and a little mischief.
by CC Parker | photography by Taylor McDonald
For sisters Coleen Speaks and Erin Barrett, there’s one Easter story that has become family lore. Sometime in the late 1970s in St. Louis, Missouri, their parents sent the girls, along with their other three siblings, on a scavenger hunt for their Easter baskets. “We followed our brother’s lead, and the search took us to the highway, over multiple fences and through many backyards,” says Coleen.
“Three hours later we found our Easter baskets in the trunk of our mother’s car, which was parked in the driveway at home.” Cunning, they realized: their parents had given themselves three hours alone at home to unwind.
Fast forward to 2003, and a crowd of families — including Coleen with her two young children, Lockhart and Paige Taylor with two teens, and Bob and Kathleen Hofstatder with their teenage son — assembled at Erin and Bill Barrett’s new home, along with their two kids, in Five Points for Easter dinner.
“We were in the middle of a renovation, so the kitchen was usable but not finished,” says Erin. “We sort of had to make do.”
As the adults heaped the last of the dirty plates into the sink, the children were getting whiny. And so the ruse was resurrected. The parents dispatched the seven children to nearby Fallon Park, armed with a cell phone, for their own scavenger hunt. The band of children merrily made their way and the adults enjoyed an hour’s reprieve, complete with chocolate martinis.
“I remember my cousins racing to get there first; the walk seemed to take forever!” recalls Orson Speaks, who was 3 at the time, the youngest child present.
These days, the children are old enough to enjoy chocolate martinis alongside their parents, and the 2003 adventure has been reframed as “being banished to Fallon Park so the mothers could enjoy covert cigarettes,” agree Orson and his sister Stella. (The mothers neither confirm nor deny.)
But celebrating Easter together is still a family tradition for these sisters and their close-knit group of friends. To make the big day go smoothly, they lean not just on tradition, but also years of experience running a business together.
Coleen, Erin, and Kathleen work side-by-side at Hummingbird, the New Orleans-influenced restaurant and bar in Dock 1053 off Whitaker Mill Road. Coleen works as the face of the business and head chef, Erin runs the front of house, and Kathleen manages private bookings. “Friends are like family, and this is the ‘secret sauce’ of our business,” says Coleen. And similarly, when their families gather to celebrate holidays, these women naturally divide and conquer.
Hummingbird has served an Easter brunch the past three years, but these three haven’t let it affect their family tradition at home. Once the final tab is closed, they change aprons to host their own combined dinner — a meal for at least 20, including their seven grown kids and family visiting from out of town. When asked how they can serve at a restaurant and then another large dinner at home, Coleen shrugs, “You fake it ’til you make it! It just works out.”
Guests arrive at Erin’s home at 2 p.m. dressed in their Easter best. Erin and Bill welcome each guest with a special cocktail, then the bar is self-serve the rest of the day. “Bloodies then bubblies then wine; we keep it flowing!” laughs Erin. Kathleen’s signature charcuterie board accompanies the drinks, featuring honeycomb from The Savannah Bee Company, along with cheeses, meats, and figs.
Each year, Lockhart presents each lady with an Easter corsage from Fallon’s. It’s his own tradition, one that has grown over the years. “Originally Lockhart gifted his wife Paige with a wrist corsage, but as the years have passed each lady receives one,” says Erin. “Poor guy — he’s buying like 15 of them now!”
The Taylors have also been in charge of the Easter eggs for the annual hunt over the years, including the real treasures: golden eggs stuffed with $5 bills. (The kids say they’ve outgrown the hunt in the last few years.)
Coleen plans the menu, but she’s not the only cook, and she’s happy to mix in store-bought goods, favorites from her catering company, Posh Nosh, and whatever folks bring. “The meal is planned around the grill so that Bill can oversee that part,” she says. “I’m not a stickler for tradition. I prefer to try new recipes to get feedback from the crowd, and contributions of food are always welcome!” At the grill, Bill bastes and heats through a precooked ham, then prepares the lamb.
Coleen works the sides, sourcing seasonal produce like radish and asparagus from Blue Sky Farms in Wendell. The dessert table always has lots of options, from a crowd-favorite Whole Foods carrot cake to a made-from-scratch Strawberry Pavlova displayed on a pedestal that’s almost too pretty to eat. (Almost.)
And since she knows the morning will be packed feeding the brunch crowd at Hummingbird, Erin gets her home guest-ready well ahead of time. “That’s the hard part!” she laughs. “The day before the dinner I always make the table and pull serving platters.” The table itself holds memories: Erin sets both an adult and children’s table, mixing in tablecloths, china, and silver received decades ago as wedding gifts with newer pieces added as the crowd has grown.
A vintage silver vase she and Bill found in a New Orleans thrift shop holds flowers from local wholesaler Cleveland Plant & Flower Co. And for these busy families, the most beloved Easter tradition may just be the one that happens once the meal is over. The aprons come off, the dishes can wait until morning (the restaurant’s closed on Mondays, anyway) and the crowd gathers for a little more time together over those signature chocolate martinis.
There’s no desire to send the kids off on a scavenger hunt; the parents sense that the opportunities to gather these young adults will not last forever. But the hope is that these cherished moments — and the traditions they hold — will find their way on to the next generation.
This article originally appeared in the April 2022 issue of WALTER magazine.