A forced move amid a pandemic may have been a blessing in disguise for one Kennewick restaurant.
Fresh Leaf Co. is moving to Richland with plans to open in March and expand its menu and hours.
The restaurant closed the doors of its bright green building after more than five years at 2617 W. Kennewick Ave. on Jan. 2.
Its landlord notified owners Juan and Gina Carillo in early fall 2020 that their lease would not be renewed due to the sale of the building and told them they would have to be out in October.
Because of Covid-related delays, the move-out date kept getting pushed back, buying the Carillos more time to figure out their next move while the state’s dine-in restrictions tightened as Covid-19 cases rose.
The popular lunchtime purveyor of fresh-pressed juices and smoothies and made-from-scratch wraps, sandwiches, salads, soups, crepes and more already had been exploring options in Richland.
Prior to the pandemic, the Carillos had been in contact with Vandervert Developments & Hotels about the suite at 1080 George Washington Way in Richland, the same strip mall already home to Porter’s Real Barbecue, which opened in June, and TC Cider House, which opened in October.
“We decided to save the money after Covid started,” Juan said. “But I think things happen for a reason, and I think it was meant to be to move to this location.”
Following their landlord’s notice, the Carillos contacted Vandervert about securing the unfinished suite. “If Vandervert hadn’t helped us out, we would have had to close our doors,” Juan said.
The Carillos hope to open there by March 22.
Juan said he feels his family is in good hands with the general contractor on the project, Hummel Construction, which is coordinating completion of tenant improvements.
Though the new Richland suite comes with a higher lease than their Kennewick spot, the space is larger and opens up more opportunities to expand their business model, including offering more menu items.
Though Fresh Leaf Co. is known for its vegetarian and vegan-friendly offerings.
“At our old location, it was hard to offer fish or meat because we didn’t have a (kitchen) hood. At the new location we will have a hood, so we will be able to offer more options,” Juan said.
The restaurant will feature a larger and better outfitted kitchen, which the Carillos will leverage to accommodate the biggest change they have in the works: a dinner menu.
Juan said that he, Gina and their son and daughter who run Fresh Leaf Co. are looking forward to extending their hours to serve dinner, something they’ve wanted to do for years.
Familiar fixtures will adorn the new space, though Carillo said the tables and chairs and other décor may receive an overhaul prior to the restaurant’s grand opening. Outside dining on the patio also will be available as winter gives way to spring.
Another feature of the new building will be a pickup window for to-go orders and food delivery couriers. During the pandemic, Fresh Leaf Co. brought back online ordering, partnering with Grubhub and DoorDash. It plans to continue offering delivery options post-pandemic.
Juan said that for the time being, Fresh Leaf Co. will remain solely family-run, but as it gets established in Richland and operating conditions related to the pandemic improve, they may hire additional employees.
Another change customers may notice is a new logo and signs.
Though Juan said he liked the style of the original logo, he said he had received complaints from customers over the years that the cursive script was difficult to read.
The Carillos’ daughter came up with several ideas for a new logo. Then the family hired Underground Creative in Kennewick. The Kennewick company riffed off her ideas to come up with the crisp, clean and modern logo and provided a rendering of what it would look like on the exterior of Fresh Leaf's new building, where it would be highly visible to drivers along busy George Washington Way.
Juan said a lot of Richland customers in the habit of making regular treks to central Kennewick to get their food fix are excited about Fresh Leaf Co.’s new location.
He said it speaks to how the restaurant got its start: his own family’s desire to find “a better way to eat.”
After finally pinning down food allergies and sensitivities that had plagued Juan for years, he and Gina revised their diet to focus more on fresh, whole foods prepared using minimal processing.
“There was nothing here in Tri-Cities for people like me who have health problems. It was hard to find dining outside the home,” Juan said.
He and Gina have worked in the restaurant business for almost 20 years. Gina had voiced an interest in opening their own restaurant so that they could work for themselves, and so the couple decided to take the plunge and offer up to Tri-Citians the food that had nourished and healed them.
When they first opened, Juan said, “A lot of people saw it like diet food, but really it’s not. It’s better for everybody. More people are getting on board with health consciousness, but it’s hard to change, especially when you grow up eating a different way.
“Once new customers give us a try, they keep coming back and coming back. It’s like what I tell my kids: never say no to giving something a try. You never know. That’s what I tell the customers: try it first, and if you don’t like it, we can try something else.”
Juan summarized Fresh Leaf Co.’s approach to food: “We make our own soups and our own dressings, and we cook the meal when (customers) order, so we don’t have everything premade. We try to use organic products, including the meat. We have gluten-free options as well. Food tastes better if you can get it right away and fresh.”
Juan said it’s been the relationships that he and his family have built with customers over the years that have sustained them during these difficult times and enabled them to make this move.
“Just thanks to everybody for the support and for having faith in us and giving us the opportunity to stay open. Just thank you. Without the customers we have, we wouldn’t exist,” he said.
Tentative new hours will be 8 a.m.-8 p.m. Monday-Friday and 9 a.m.-6 p.m Saturday.
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