Author: Alexa Bonsey
As we have expanded our business over the past four years, we have come to recognize that growth doesn’t always have to be an independent venture.
Some of our most rewarding growth at Blue Ridge Hemp has blossomed from collaborative projects. When we merge our unique skills with those of other passionate businesses and makers, we have been able to reap and share the rewards of our combined strengths.
Recently, we have been building our newest collaboration with Living Kitchen, a raw, vegan restaurant and retail food company with locations in Charlotte and Raleigh, NC. We are thrilled to be expanding our local projects to other areas in the state of North Carolina.
In the coming weeks, we will be releasing our collaborative product: CBD cookie bites that are as tasty as they are nutritious!
We feel especially grateful to have created this new product with Living Kitchen(LK), whose passion for providing healthful, nutritious, and sustainable food options is so aligned with our passion for spreading wellness throughout the Blue Ridge Nation.
While you’re waiting to get your hands on our newest tasty treat, we hope you’ll take this opportunity to learn about the amazing company that has helped us create our CBD cookie bites. We interviewed McKenzie Mann, General Manager of The Annex (LK’s production kitchen) to hear how Living Kitchen has evolved over the years.
From Fast Food to Raw Food
Living Kitchen was founded by Juliana Luna, who fused her love of nutritious food and experience with business to open Luna’s Living Kitchen. Juliana grew up in Columbia, where she also attended college and studied business management.
She spent some of her education studying abroad in Switzerland, where she began to explore the food industry by working in a number of kitchens. When she moved to the US after completing her education, she continued to work in food kitchens and eventually found her way into the fast food industry.
Juliana was immediately troubled by the corrupt food and employment culture that fast food companies perpetuated. She did not support the poor working conditions these companies created for their employees, nor the unwholesome food they served.
If she was going to remain in the food industry, she wanted her work to feel more aligned with her personal and professional ethics.
She soon left the fast food industry to forge a different path. She and her husband, Randy Powell, began to brainstorm a way to pursue a business venture together. During this time, Juliana and Randy often hosted friends in their home and provided nutritious meals and snacks that their visitors loved.
It became clear that they had an opportunity in front of them: to make a living sharing healthful food with their community.
Creating Living Kitchen
In 2012, Juliana and Randy opened Luna’s Living Kitchen, a quaint café serving plant-based fare in the south end of Charlotte. The menu was simple and nutritious, highlighting smoothies, juices, sandwiches, and desserts. It was an instant success.
“Charlotte responded to it really well,” recalls McKenzie. “The place was packed. . . it was tough to get a seat in there on Saturdays; it always attracted crowds of people.”
Stephen Edwards, a local investor who had other ties to Charlotte’s wellness community, visited the café and was impressed with their business and mission. He offered to partner with Juliana and create more growth for the business. She agreed and they were soon able to expand and move across the street, growing from 800 square feet to 3000.
The new location also allowed them to grow their menu, and the expansion was immediately well received by the Charlotte community. “[The menu] was familiar foods that were made plant-based, so it was something new and exciting.” The menu contained about 90% raw recipes and 100% organic ingredients, and the unique twists to old classics — like lasagna made from zucchini with cashew “cheese” — were a welcome and nutritious option amidst Charlotte’s restaurant scene.
The restaurant’s success led to further expansion, including a second location in Raleigh and a juice truck in Charlotte. The Charlotte team also began producing more cold-pressed juice and many small desserts, which was difficult to accomplish with only a single restaurant kitchen.
Juice is a central focus for Living Kitchen because it is a nutritious food that can be messy and difficult to make at home. Their cold-pressed juices are loaded with plant nutrients. In the form of juice, the body can rapidly absorb these vitamins and minerals are because plant fiber has been removed, making it easier for the body to process the juice.
They eventually opened The Annex, Living Kitchen’s production kitchen, to accommodate the increased food production. Access to two kitchens opened new doors for the LK team. They formed plans to sell retail products, and looked to their existing menu for inspiration. Among many delicious options, the team focused on Living Kitchen’s raw vegan cookies, popular dessert item made with wholesome ingredients and no refined sugar.
These cookies opened Living Kitchen to the retail world. LK’s team reduced the size of the cookies and packaged the smaller ones as Living Kitchen Cookie Bites.
This product was initially sold by local retailers at coffee shops and other such businesses around Charlotte. Once the cookies became certified as organic and gluten-free, the team created new packaging and began pursuing larger retailers like Whole Foods. The cookie bites are now sold in 24 Whole Foods stores in the chain’s southeast region.
Living Kitchen’s mission to foster nourishment in food and community has inspired all of the team’s work, from bottling cold-pressed juice in the restaurant to selling the cookie bites, and everything in between.
“We feel like we’re providing high quality, nutrient dense products or very nutritious foods in a market that’s crowded with processed food.”
They are also committed to using sustainable methods to share their food. The juice is bottled in glass rather than plastic, and the restaurant uses compostable utensils, plates, and napkins to reduce waste. The restaurant reduces its carbon footprint by using primarily raw, plant-based foods.
LK’s team is particularly grateful to offer these products to communities in Charlotte and Raleigh. As Living Kitchen has grown, the company has partnered with several yoga studios and other businesses that promote wellness in the Charlotte area. LK’s team brings Living Kitchen’s juice truck to wellness and nutrition events within Charlotte, as well.
As the company continues to expand, LK’s team looks forward to becoming even more involved in those communities to support wellness throughout North Carolina. They are currently looking to bring their delicious menu to a new, additional location in Charlotte.
A Natural Connection: Collaborative Cookie Bites
Our companies share compatible missions, and working together to create a superfood product was a natural step for both of us.
McKenzie had been using CBD oil at home for a few years, and had also introduced it to his colleagues. He and the rest of the management team had discussed incorporating CBD into their products for some time, but were waiting for the right opportunity to arise before taking action.
Eventually, McKenzie found our Blue Ridge Hemp Instagram and introduced himself to Will. They arranged a meeting, and instantly clicked. “Everything we believe in and stand for as a company as far as clean ingredients and providing something that’s going to help people and provide a lot of benefits, [Will] believes. . . about CBD.”
Living Kitchen’s staff were excited to work with another company in North Carolina that focuses on promoting well-being. McKenzie was also inspired by Will’s philosophy about collaborative work. “Will always says, ‘working together you can create a bigger impact,’ and we were definitely attracted to that idea.”
He is also looking forward to supporting the hemp industry and bringing more awareness to the possible benefits of CBD. By collaborating on a product, we are able to combine and widen our communities to ultimately reach a bigger audience.
The Product: CBD Cookie Bites
When Will and McKenzie met in person, they quickly came up with the ideal collaborative product: CBD Cookie Bites.
These cookies are the perfect balance of indulgent and nutritious; blended with organic, wholesome ingredients and natural sweeteners like dates and coconut sugar, they are filled with nutrients that support the body.
The ingredients are also vegan, raw, gluten-free, and organic, so the cookie bites can be nutritious and accommodate several dietary restrictions.
The cookies also act as the perfect base for other recipes. This week, we will be sharing recipes that use the cookies, and offering a product giveaway on each post!
Follow along on our @cbdsuperfood Instagram for these recipes — and stay tuned for our upcoming @cbdsuperfood x @living_kitchenCBD Cookie Bites flash sale!
— — —