The fourth location of the Philadelphia-headquartered start-up provides a fresh-food complement to the Whole Foods-anchored Ellisburg Shopping Center.
By Matt Skoufalos
To hear Honeygrow CEO Justin Rosenberg tell the story of how his fresh-food eatery was founded is to hear a lesson in persistence.
The New York native moved to Philadelphia in 2004 as a Penn State history major, completed an MBA at Temple University, and landed a job in energy management for developer PREIT.
“I could’ve moved back to New York and done financing and been okay,” Rosenberg said, “but I wanted to create a company.”
After a year of vegan eating, Rosenberg thought he’d settled on a winning concept: simple recipes made with fresh, seasonally local ingredients, all prepared in-house.
He took a weekend kitchen job in Washington, D.C. working Saturday prep, Saturday night dinner, and Sunday brunch and then “tak[ing]the bus back before my wife would kill me,” Rosenberg recalls.
Recruiting financiers required a similar level of commitment, he said.
“Ninety-three people said ‘Get lost,’ or never got back to me, or weren’t the right type of investor,” Rosenberg said.
“The 94th said ‘Yes.’”
On the surface, the Honeygrow menu is very straightforward: made-to-order stir-frys and salads, a fresh-fruit-and-yogurt bar, and one type of smoothie (kale, mint, banana, and pineapple).
Dig a little deeper, however, and the possibilities start to reveal themselves.
The egg-white and whole-wheat Ramen noodles that provide the base of the stir-fry bowls are sourced from a New York kitchen where they’re made by hand.
Sauces and salad dressings are prepared fresh onsite (there’s no freezer in the restaurant).
All the meats are roasted in-house; all the vegetables are procured locally. The origins of each ingredient are listed on a chalkboard by the front entrance.
The kitchen at Honeygrow is “very sensitive to diet,” Rosenberg said, accommodating diners with restrictive diets by preparing their meals in a separate wok. The menu is peanut-free.
“We’re a product-based company that focuses on making sure our guests are as happy as possible for what they’re paying,” Rosenberg said. “All these details count.”
The same attention to detail goes into staff development, he said. When hiring the 40-member team, Rosenberg said managers weren’t necessarily seeking people with the most restaurant experience, but “the best people possible.
“We don’t want the guy from Office Space with the flair,” he said. “We want people who connect with our guests.”
The restaurant also works to develop its employees, Rosenberg said. After a year, staffers are honored in an all-staff kitchen ceremony, in which they receive a Honeygrow-branded knife and the praises of their coworkers.
“We want people to move up in the company,” he said. “We assume with the right attitude, we can teach anyone anything. [It’s] about being authentic, knowledgeable, and responsive.”
Rosenberg’s executive assistant, Marie Sheldon, has been with the company since he opened his Radnor, PA location (Honeygrow also has stores in Bala Cynwyd and on 16th Street in Philadelphia).
A Cherry Hill native, Sheldon said she always knew the restaurant was a good fit for her hometown; bringing it to a location anchored by Whole Foods only sealed the deal.
“As soon as I found out Whole Foods was coming here, it was a game-changer,” she said.
“I believe that once you start eating here, you have an understanding of what fresh food actually is and what honest eating actually is.”
Honeygrow is located in the Ellisburg Shopping Center at the intersection of Route 70 and Kings Highway. The restaurant is open 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. daily. Its grand opening is Monday, April 6.