Hello! Who are you and what business did you start?
I am Wen, the founder, and president of House of Leaf & Bean, organic restaurant and cafe. I am passionate about Lifestyle Medicine due to my personal health journey. I believe that good lifestyle medicine is better than magic pills. "Let the medicine be the food; let the food be the medicine".
My goal is to offer simple, fresh, and organic meals that heal. I am currently working with Kailo Nutrition and Synergy Lifestyle Center to make meals that help the patients to reverse or improve their health conditions such as heart problems, high cholesterol, diabetes, high blood pressure, obesity, and so on. Simple, fresh, organic meals that are affordable and delicious.
I believe that what we eat and how we make our food simply is not sustainable not only for our health but also for our environment. That's why she created House of Leaf & Bean for her community that is beyond a restaurant. It is a community to educate and to offer a different way of making our food.
I’ve taken many leadership roles in organizations like Jacksonville Sister City Association, National Asian American PAC FL, Jacksonville Chinese Association, Jacksonville Mayor's Asian American Advisory Board, Florida Restaurant and Lodging Association, Leadership Jacksonville, and more.
What's your backstory and how did you come up with the idea?
Why did I leave my corporate job to become an entrepreneur? I want to pursue my passion for Healthy Living and Healthy Dieting. I was diagnosed with IBS (Irritable Bowel Syndrome) in 2008. After seeing many doctors, undergoing a wide variety of examinations, tests, and scans, I was told that I have no problems with my body.
However, I know that I am not fine because I feel bloated even when I hungry. I decided to take charge of my own health and fate. I did a lot of research regarding digestive system problems. Some research outcomes resonated with me such as selecting the right food combinations, buying less processed foods, and using fresh, organic ingredients enable our system to more easily digest the food that we eat. Regular exercise, making sure to get enough sleep, regularly de-stressing through meditation or by being in nature was also important.
I started incorporating organic food into my diet and over time my whole pantry began to fill with organic produce and spices. I also began a routine of exercise and meditation, even when traveling, I gradually realized that my condition was improving. My IBS has been gone for the last couple of years. I look back and believe that changing my diet and lifestyle transformed my life and cured IBS.
There are more than 50 million people who have IBS in the US. There are 29.1 million diabetes patients in 2012, 1.4 million newly diagnosed diabetes every year, and 86 million prediabetes in the US. There are 20.3 million people who have ever been diagnosed with cancer in the US in 2014. There are 36.4% of adults (20 and over) in the US who has obesity. I have been wondering how I could make this natural path and its benefits available to more people. I want to make healthy food and healthy living more affordable and accessible.
As a Chinese American, I grew up eating a lot of plant-based protein. Especially, soy products, for example, tofu and soy milk. People throughout Asia have been eating all types of bean products for 3000 years and enjoying long, active lives. However, the American general public doesn’t know much about tofu or is misled by certain articles.
Along with a few friends, I started experimenting with making fresh soymilk and tofu from organic (non-GMO) soybeans. We were surprised by how different it is compared to the store-bought box of tofu or soy milk. After numerous tastings and experiments, we found the right kind of texture for our tofu.
We started selling our tofu, vegan and organic foods, and organic tea in the Beaches Green Market at Jarboe Park, Neptune Beach. We also received a warm welcome. We found how we could help more people to be able to afford healthy food.
That’s when we thought of having an Organic Café where West meets East. We also wanted to offer space that people could destress and relax in a Zen-type of environment. The organic freshly brewed tea (caffeinated and herbal) and organic freshly made soy products will offer the satisfaction only high-quality food can provide. After we build a model that works, we plan to put it everywhere including a food desert area.
Our mission is “Healthy Living and Healthy Dieting Accessible and Affordable for Everyone”!
Take us through the process of designing, prototyping, and manufacturing your first product.
We started making tofu using organic soybeans in our house. We used a small semi-manual machine making 5-10 lbs of beans each time. The process to make the tofu isn’t easy because there are so many variables such as temperature, water, coagulant, pressure, the quality of the beans, and the fineness of the grind. We did numerous trials and tasted all flavors of tofu textures for more than 6 months. We finally got the texture of the tofu that everyone loves.
Prioritize the tasks each day, to get enough sleep, meditate regularly, and spend time with family and friends whenever it is possible.
In the beginning, I was not sure if we should start producing tofu and sell it to other businesses like wholesalers and retailers or if we should have a restaurant first in the beginning. However, I would like to make sure that simple, fresh, and organic food affordable and accessible for everyone. That means that our food needs to be available at every corner of our streets like Starbucks. When people are traveling on the road, they are looking for our food and drinks.
I used my 401k savings as my startup capital. I recruited a group of friends who supported my vision. We worked together to come up with the logo and the structure of the company.
Describe the process of launching the business.
We decided that we should have a storefront first to introduce our plant-based products. We were looking for a place that had a drive-through and close to a community that has a lot of early adopters for a healthy lifestyle. We found the old building that was for Taco Bell. We transferred it to a modern, peaceful, and organic restaurant and cafe.
I have learned that running a restaurant is the hardest job that I ever have had. I have to stick to my core values and mission in the process. Otherwise, I would lose focus and might even change the direction. Our menu and production have been evolving since we opened in December 2017. Our customers and the staff are helping us to create the most delicious organic plant-based food.
Since launch, what has worked to attract and retain customers?
Since we launched, we have tried all different types of marketing efforts. We found that Google Adwords, social media (FB / IG), newsletter, blog posts, and the word of mouth are the most effective advertisement.
Events and community outreach are also effective for us because education is part of our mission. Thus, the community is open to change and tries to eat different types of food.
How are you doing today and what does the future look like?
We just came out of the pandemic crisis. Our revenue is growing since January 2021. We are breaking even for the last 4 months. 80% of our sales are drive-thru and in-store sales. 20% of the sales are from online sales, events, and BTB sales.
We are planning to have an organic production facility to produce our most popular organic vegan food and sell it to wholesale establishments and retail stores in 2021.
Through starting the business, have you learned anything particularly helpful or advantageous?
Through this entrepreneurship, I have met a lot of game-changers and influencers who inspire me to keep going with my passion and mission. I also learn to prioritize the tasks each day, get enough sleep, meditate regularly, and spend time with family and friends whenever it is possible.
What platform/tools do you use for your business?
What have been the most influential books, podcasts, or other resources?
I have worked with consultants from SBDC, Chamber of Commerce, Women Business Center, and other Entrepreneurship organizations. These are helpful and free resources that we could take advantage of.
Advice for other entrepreneurs who want to get started or are just starting?
My advice for those who are going to start in the world of entrepreneurship:
- Prepare for the hard work and long hours -- learn to do everything before hiring staff to help
- Make sure your family is ready to share your journey, their support is very important
- Prepare for the naysayers and negative comments about what you do
- Don’t change the course easily
- Don’t quit easily
- Be true to yourself and hire good people who love your vision and mission.
Are you looking to hire for certain positions right now?
Yes, we are hiring for the following positions:
- Store Manager (full-time)
- Sales Rep (full-time)
Where can we go to learn more?
If you have any questions or comments, drop a comment below!
would you use the different interior photo of House of Leaf & Bean? Would you advise how I could send you the photo?
Thank you! Wen Raiti
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