New strategy, name of the organic restaurant | Jax Daily Record | Jacksonville Daily Record
When Wen Raiti opened House of Leaf and Bean in 2017, she was unaware that 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 has had time to build up a clientele that has remained loyal through the depth of 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 has been 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 in danger. 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 his diet to a mostly vegetarian diet. In less than a year, his triglyceride levels dropped to 200 and he lost almost 40 pounds.
âI tried diets, but nothing worked. I had to make drastic changes, âZiehm said.
The small restaurant can accommodate 30 people. House of Leaf and Bean favorites like Crispy Tofu Bites, Hakka Rice Bowl, and Scallion Pancake remain on the menu.
Ziehm puts more emphasis on the restaurant’s wine program, having built it to 30 organic wines, and he wants to increase it over time.
The popular Zen relaxation room remains, as does the wide choice 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 the evening reserved for reservations only.
âI am a country girl. I didn’t know what gastronomy was, âsaid Raiti.
Encouraged by this success, the two seek a second location and open up to a different area as long as it is heavily 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 this is an upscale casual eatery with average prices of $ 12 to $ 15 per entree.
Interior renovations are cosmetic, including new tables and chairs and original pen and ink designs for the walls.
Raiti, 55, immigrated from his hometown of 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 Masters in Accounting and Taxation 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 quickly diagnosed with irritable bowel syndrome, which caused bowel pain, constipation and bloating.
When Raiti returned to his original diet, the symptoms gradually disappeared. Having read that up to 15% of Americans suffer from the same affliction, she figured a restaurant serving plant-based cuisine would be popular.
Ziehm, 52, his wife and son were living in the Chicago area when he got tired of the cold and wanted to find better schools for their son.
They moved to Jacksonville and he was working at Co-op 303 when he met Raiti. At the end of his contract, he and Raiti decided to work together.
Renaming the restaurant pays homage to Raiti’s Hakka cultural heritage. The food is simple but unknown to most Western tastes. Much of it is made from tofu.
The restaurant is one of the few along the East Coast that makes its tofu in-house, Raiti said.
Other than a weekly fish special and the shrimp which are in a dumpling, the menu is vegetarian and vegan.
But the restaurant is not meant to promote diet. âWe have people who are not vegans. They come because the food is good, âZiehm said.
Each starter is accompanied by a suggested tea and wine pairing.
Starters include steamed dumplings and buns. Curry-based dishes are offered as well as the black tofu specialty Bao Gong, which is tofu marinated in soybeans with mushrooms, stuffed with roasted garlic and served with organic sautÃ©ed vegetables.
Plant-based offerings can be complemented with the addition of protein like Mayport’s shrimp, chickpeas, edamame, tofu, or a mix of nuts, cashews, and peanuts.
COVID crippled many restaurants last spring when on-site dining was not an option.
Raiti’s drive-thru model adapted to the tailor-made.
âIt turns out that was the best option. People didn’t want to eat in a restaurant. They used to come to our drive-thru, âshe said.
âMy clients kept telling me they wanted me to stay. They say they didn’t want me to go. The support of the community allowed me to continue every day.
Hakka Kitchen is open from 11:00 a.m. to 9:00 p.m. Tuesday through Sunday for lunch and dinner. It is closed on Mondays. Her website is lovehakkakitchen.com.
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