Brother and sister Jessica Karp and Jordan Brown, who grew up in Scarsdale, don’t mess around when it comes to healthful eating. The duo moved to Scarsdale in their middle school years and attended Scarsdale Middle School and Scarsdale High School through to graduation. Even after that, they both called Scarsdale home through their college years and beyond.
“We moved to Scarsdale as kids and we left New York City so I told my mom she ruined my life, but we loved Scarsdale,” said Karp, who graduated from SHS in 1997. “I remember going to my mom a year later and telling her I was so happy we moved there and thanking her.”
While they were growing up and eventually moving back to Manhattan, they were also unknowingly growing into entrepreneurs with a mission to make the world healthier. In 2012, the pair opened Hu Kitchen, a restaurant and food line focused on clean, wellness-based foods that include paleo, vegan and other dietary initiatives. Hu products are also available online in a number of stores in the metro area, including Balducci’s and Standing Room Only in Scarsdale and Green Organic Market in Hartsdale.
With the tagline “Get Back to Human,” Hu is self-described as promoting holistic wellness not only through diet, but also encouraging physical activity, consistent sleep and other health practices. The website describes Hu products as being free of less ideal ingredients, including gluten, soy, GMO corn, MSG, refined sugar, or conventional sweeteners. Instead, they create their products using what they consider unprocessed components, like organic eggs and poultry, sea salt and coconut oil, minimal grains, quality sweeteners and house made condiments.
“We developed a concept with strict rules for the restaurant, about 20 rules, from the oils we cook with to being grain free, and those all stem from our lives,” said Brown, SHS class of ’99. “Our main business now is our package business and it operates on the same rules as the restaurant.”
Karp and Brown described themselves as having been fairly health-conscious before starting Hu, but discovering they could be doing a lot more after trying out different dietary strategies and looking more into how their food was made. Brown specifically tried cutting things like gluten and following a “primal” diet, meaning he began to eat basic, whole, unprocessed foods like humans might have eaten in primal times (lean fresh meats, fish, nuts, seeds, vegetables, fruits). He noticed a long-term skin condition clear up, his ability to focus and get things done increasing, and his overall energy levels and feelings of wellness reaching an all-time high. Wanting to stick to these results, he started asking details about how his food was prepared at his favorite “healthy” restaurants and found it was essentially impossible to find somewhere to eat that was truly clean and healthy. That’s when he called in Jessica and her husband Jason and they began to make a plan to fill the hole in the food market.
“I was really annoyed with Jason at the time because we would hang out and he would talk about what he and Jordan were eating or eliminating and I was more the typical calorie counter and didn’t care about chemicals as long as it was on trend like low calorie, low fat, whatever. I was just not interested at first,” said Karp. “Then I had a daughter and when I … had to feed her, all of a sudden it was everything has to be pristine for her body — it has to be real food without chemicals and all these things. When I thought about that, I was thinking, ‘Well, what am I putting into my own body?’”
Once all three got on board they realized, even in a place as progressive as New York City, there was nowhere they could go to eat exactly the way they wanted to. Back in 2009 and 2010 when they first started kicking the idea around, the concepts of a paleo diet or avoiding gluten or grain were still very novel, making the group early adopters of what would eventually become big health trends.
“I saw there was an opportunity to implement what we were doing in terms of diet and apply [that] to a restaurant and promote and market it and into the packaging business,” said Brown. “We started honing the concept, which was weird back then, and having the focus be the human body thriving the way it’s supposed to.”
The Hu Kitchen, located at 78 Fifth Ave. in Union Square, includes a market of small-batch goods, a grain, gluten and dairy free bakery, freshly prepared food for dine in or takeout, a create-your-own bowl station, prepared foods by the pound and their own original line of chocolate.
The menu items at the kitchen include a 100% grass fed burger made with dairy-free zucchini cheese, organic lettuce and tomato, dairy-free Russian dressing, a gluten/grain-free sweet potato bun and sweet potato wedges; banana-chocolate chip pancakes made with banana, Hu chocolate, almond, organic eggs, organic coconut and raw honey; and paleo bacon, egg and cheese including Berkshire bacon, organic egg, zucchini cheese, homemade ketchup and a paleo bagel.
But the biggest focus of Hu has become not only the kitchen, but their own line of products, all inspired by their first original food creation.
“We wanted a robust baked food line and we wanted chocolate for that, and the rules needed to apply to that, but it didn’t really exist, so we started to make our own,” said Brown. “It’s sweetened with coconut sugar, no dairy and it was necessary to create that for our baking. It turned out so delicious it became our first product in the package line and within four months of our opening we were in our first store out of the restaurant.”
After selling the candy bars out of his own apartment for a period of time as demand continued to grow, Brown and his co-founders decided it was time to expand. They hired some more staff and turned their packaged product line into one of their main focuses, coming out with more new prodcuts like grain-free crackers which sold out right after their initial launch.
“We’re going to continue to expand our product distribution, get into more stores,” said Brown. “Our grain-free crackers and baked goods are new right now, and we’re looking to continue to add and expand and push the business.”
Hu Kitchen in Union Square will continue to be their home base, however, and will continue to serve the clean and healthy food they’ve wanted to supply the world all along.
“It’s kind of this all-encompassing thing … we live and breathe this because this is how we ourselves want to eat,” said Karp. “We created it because we want to eat ... real food and have it be delicious and not feel like you’re being deprived.”