New strategy, name of the organic restaurant | Jax Daily Record | Jacksonville Daily Record
When Wen Raiti opened House of Leaf and Bean in 2017, little did she know she had developed the business model that would help her restaurant survive the COVID pandemic that began in March 2020.
His organic restaurant at 14474 Beach Blvd. near San Pablo Road, was a quick service establishment with a drive-thru online ordering window.
She had time to build up a following that remained loyal throughout the pandemic.
House of Leaf and Bean became Hakka Kitchen on November 16.
Raiti and his business partner, Chef Marshall Ziehm, added menu items, table service and a wine bar. They hope to employ 10, but experience what happens to many restaurants: a labor shortage.
Ziehm is a classically trained chef who has worked in Europe for 10 years and in the culinary world for 36 years.
He became a fan of Raiti’s Chinese cuisine when doctors told him his old diet put him at risk. His triglycerides were at 700 and he was on the verge of pancreatic failure.
Ziehm met Raiti through a mutual friend in the spring of 2021 and decided to change her diet to a mostly vegetarian diet. In less than a year, his triglycerides dropped to 200 and he lost nearly 40 pounds.
“I tried diets, but nothing worked. I had to make drastic changes,” Ziehm said.
The small restaurant can accommodate 30 people. House of Leaf and Bean favorites, such as Crispy Tofu Bites, Hakka Rice Bowl and Scallion Pancake, remain on the menu.
Ziehm places more emphasis on the restaurant’s wine program, having built it at 30 organic wines, and he wants to increase it over time.
The popular Zen relaxation room remains, as does the wide selection of hot organic teas.
The decision to change the menu came after a successful meal where Ziehm explored the gastronomic aspects of Raiti’s menu. They sold out the evening for reservations only.
“I am a country girl. I didn’t know what fine dining was,” Raiti said.
Encouraged by this success, the two seek a second location and open up to a different area as long as it is well exposed to traffic. The first location was a closed Taco Bell.
Hakka Kitchen has fine dining items on the menu and in the dining room, but Raiti insists it’s upscale casual with dinner prices averaging $12 to $15 per entree.
Interior renovations are cosmetic, including new tables and chairs and original pen-and-ink drawings for the walls.
Raiti, 55, immigrated from his native Guangdong province to live in Singapore and the Northern Mariana Islands before coming to the United States.
She and her husband, Jon, lived in Pittsburgh before moving to Jacksonville in 2006. She worked as a CPA and earned a master’s degree in accounting and tax from the University of North Florida.
Raiti might have been content to stay in finance if his own health issues hadn’t changed his life.
When she arrived in the United States, she drastically changed her diet, eating what most Americans eat. She was soon diagnosed with irritable bowel syndrome, which caused intestinal pain, constipation and bloating.
When Raiti returned to her original diet, the symptoms gradually disappeared. After reading that up to 15% of Americans suffer from the same condition, she figured a restaurant with plant-based cuisine would be popular.
Ziehm, 52, his wife and son were living in the Chicago area when he grew tired of the cold and wanted to find better schools for their son.
They moved to Jacksonville and he was working at Coop 303 when he met Raiti. When his contract ended, he and Raiti decided to work together.
Renaming the restaurant pays homage to Raiti’s Hakka cultural heritage. The food is simple but unfamiliar to most Western tastes. Much of it is made from tofu.
The restaurant is one of the few on the East Coast to make its tofu from scratch, Raiti said.
Apart from a weekly fish special and the prawns that are in a dumpling, the menu is vegetarian and vegan.
But the restaurant is not about touting a diet. “We have people who are not vegan. They come because the food is good,” Ziehm said.
Each starter is accompanied by a tea and wine pairing suggestion.
Entrees include dumplings and steamed buns. Curry dishes are featured as well as the specialty black tofu Bao Gong, which is tofu marinated in soybeans with mushrooms, stuffed with roasted garlic and served with organic sautéed vegetables.
Plant-based offerings can be supplemented by adding protein like Mayport shrimp, chickpeas, edamame, tofu, or a mix of nuts, cashews, and peanuts.
COVID crippled many restaurants last spring when on-site dining wasn’t an option.
Raiti’s drive-thru model suitable for tailor-made.
“It just happened to be the best option. People didn’t want to eat in restaurants. They used to come to our drive-thru,” she said.
“My clients kept telling me they wanted me to stay. They say they didn’t want me to leave. The community support kept me going every day.
Hakka Kitchen is open from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Tuesday through Sunday for lunch and dinner. It is closed on Mondays. Her website is lovehakkakitchen.com.
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