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The Art of Healthy, Fast Casual: An Interview with Homespun Kitchen

The Levine Family

As humans, we’ve become hyper focused on the art of making things easy.

We trained ourselves to shop in stores with the word ‘convenient’ in the name, even taught ourselves how to buy groceries from the comfort of our own couches. And when you combine this obsession with the fact that we’re living in a world that thrives on constant forward progression, often at breakneck speed, it’s quite easy to see how convenience became king.

In theory, these helpful innovations are supposed to be revolutionary. 

Amazon will tell you how much time you saved by shopping with them from the comfort of your own home, time that you once wasted by visiting their brick and mortar competitors. And you’ll be so happy to think of all the time you now have! All because you chose to buy your toilet paper from a computer instead of a cashier. And with time being such a precious thing, you’ll now be free to use it on more wonderful things, like finishing a 500-piece puzzle that has been plaguing you, or taking your kids to the movies. 

And just like that, another big name corporation will have Pavlov’s Dog’d you into thinking convenience equates to good. 

But what happens when convenience isn’t so good? 

For the best example of this, let us turn our gaze to the McDonald’s and Burger King’s of the world - franchises built on the model of “fast” and “easy”. Pushing products that contribute to national obesity rates, health crises and more, it’s quite easy to find flaws in the notion that convenience is always in the best interest of humans.

One person who caught onto this pitfall early in life is Aaron Levine, owner and operator of Homespun Kitchen in Beaches Town Center. “Growing up, my parents struggled with us eating healthy at home,” he says. “They were both working, so I saw how much of a battle that was - unhealthy, fast casual became a staple for us.” 

Like many working households, the struggles of balancing time, work and finances can often make the appeal of fast food much more alluring. “I often wondered why we couldn’t get stuff that was healthy and delicious, but also fast and convenient for us - so that was a big motivator [in starting Homespun Kitchen] for me.” 

Aaron’s notes from 1995 while working at Wendy’s

After working as an engineer for 5 years, all the while “building plans for the future”, Aaron and his wife, Angela, finally opened Happy Cup. The frozen yogurt “was a way for us to get our feet wet as first time owners in the restaurant business.” 

Homespun Kitchen’s predecessor, Happy Cup But their journey wasn’t without it’s struggles. Remembering the initial days, Aaron recalls nights spent sleeping in the store with a thermarest he bought from REI. “I sold my wife’s car in the early days, when we were having trouble,” he adds.

When they outgrew their original model and shifted gears into moving forward as Homespun Kitchen, the Levines dealt with staff turnover resulting from a newer, more complicated menu. “We lost half of our crew - Angela and I ran the store open to close with a newborn. She worked with the baby on her back.” 

In fact, even the interior itself is a labor of love crafted in Aaron’s own garage. “Everything in there is built by hand, so it meets the function of the restaurant. All of the furniture, the counters - everything. Strapped to the top of my car, driven to the store in the middle of the night so we could remodel.” 

Building Homespun Kitchen elements in the Levine Family garage

Throughout the ups and downs, Aaron and Angela still pushed forward with their mission of supplying their local community with the kind of fast, casual food they deserved. “If you really want to make it work, there are all kinds of challenges you really have to dedicate yourself to. But we’ve always been all in.”

And after nearly 7 years of hard work and determination, the Levines' hard work has paid off. Homespun Kitchen has become a bustling go-to spot at the Beaches for many folks seeking out healthy alternatives. They've developed a dedicated fanbase, catered plenty of lunches and even scored an invitation to pop-up at The Players Championship earlier this year as a part of the Taste of Jax expo behind the 11th green.

Even now, faced with a global pandemic, Homespun Kitchen has still managed to expertly navigate rough waters and come out on top. As a business that has always relied on a big percentage of takeaway food, Aaron said that they were “quickly able to adjust and adapt.” And the community surrounding them has been a big help, too. “They’re awesome. They just wrap their brains around all of the hoops they have to jump through and still manage to stop in, so we’re really blessed in that way.” 

Homespun bringing healthy options to an office near you

So what lies in the future for the Levine family and Homespun Kitchen? It turns out, a lot. 

“We’re actively working on a bigger menu that’s able to help more people,” Aaron says. “Angela and I have traveled the country and have collected more than 300 menus in the last 10 years. People are doing some really cool things with roasted proteins and vegetables with inventive sauces.” No doubt, a foray into warm bowls would be a welcome addition within the community, giving their audience more options for staying healthy. And with things to look forward to like “kombucha glazed tofu” and components like “sriracha maple carrots”, it’s easy to get excited.

Perhaps you may even see a Homespun Kitchen spring up in your neighborhood in the future. “Instead of opening too many locations too early, we’ve really focused on refining the model,” Aaron states. “So we’re actively looking forward to pursuing new locations.” So the next time you feel compelled to navigate yourself to the nearest drive through, do yourself (and your body!) a favor and stop by Homespun Kitchen- a place where convenience and food actually do go hand-in-hand.

Article by Kelsey Thomas - October 1st, 2020 / @klsy.thms


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