Join us as we sit down with Leith Hill, Founder and President of Ellary’s Greens. In part one of this three part series, Leith talks us through what it was like to open up her own restaurant, and the food legacy she hopes to leave behind.
Ellary’s Greens is a healthy food concept restaurant in New York City, which just marked its 3-year anniversary by opening a second location at Columbus Circle.
What did you you have for breakfast this morning?
This morning, I had goat’s milk, and plain, unflavored yogurt with chia seeds and almonds. All raw.
What’s your guilty pleasure food?
Any other guilty pleasures?
Well, watermelon. Also, dried fruits and nuts mixed together.
What was your inspiration for opening up Ellary’s Greens?
I’m from New Orleans. The land of butter, booze, beignets, and bearnaise sauce. But I was raised by a health food fanatic. So I grew up eating healthy. In addition to that, when I had kids I was living out on Long Island, and there was absolutely nothing healthy for me to eat there.
I wanted to create a world in which people could be on the road and find delicious, nutrient-rich food that they actually wanted to eat and feed to their kids. My vision is a world full of guilt free eating — where all the options are equally good and equally nourishing.
What was your experience opening up your restaurant?
The build out process of opening up Ellary’s Greens was honestly hell on earth! I had this vision that we would open and people would rush to the doors and be so excited that we were there. New York City is a little bit different than that.
We were opening a brand new concept in a neighborhood where people both live and work. It was a slower start than I had anticipated. In the end, it was the best way to have it happen. We got to work out the kinks without thousands of people watching everyday and expecting perfection. In the end, it was really a blessing in disguise.
At first, we started with dinner only. Next, we introduced lunch and brunch, followed by breakfast. We actually don’t do breakfast anymore, because we’re located in the West Village and people are just rolling in from the night before when most people are usually starting breakfast. But that was a learning experience too, and not one I regret. It helped us build out our breakfast menu, which we will use at our second location at Columbus Circle, because that area is a very breakfast-heavy crowd.
Each neighborhood in the city is different, and has different hours at which people eat. In the West Village, it was a slower start, but we quickly became a staple of the neighborhood. Every single day, we have brand new customers, tourists from other countries who stumble upon us, new customers who’ve read about us and have us on their food lists. We also have people who eat there 5-15 times a week. We are their kitchen. We know those customers intimately and they know us. We are very literally a part of their daily lives in the West Village.
How does being a mom impact the way you approach food?
Being a mom changed everything for me. Before becoming a mom, I worked full time. I had enough spare time to shop for, bring home, unpack, clean, prep, and cook the food that I wanted to eat.
Once I had kids, quite honestly, I didn’t even have time to brush my teeth or shower. Going to the grocery store and doing all that prep really changed everything for me. But it also showed me that there’s a huge need for “slow food” that’s served quickly.
We live in a world where there’s a McDonalds, Burger King, Dunkin’ Donuts, and Taco Bell on every corner. Especially in suburbia. That food doesn’t nourish you, it actually makes you sick.
There’s something about having kids that makes you see and understand how precious life is. I realized we only get a few shots every day to put nutrient-dense food in our kids’ bodies and in our bodies. That’s especially true for kids, because kids generally don’t over eat. That’s something we learn later in life. Kids don’t gorge themselves on breastmilk. They eat when they’re hungry and stop when they’re full. You only have a few shots a day to give them the nutrients they need to grow and develop into strong, smart, healthy kids.
That’s what having kids taught me. And I realized, as adults, our needs are no different. We just choose to treat our bodies differently. So it really did show me the need to have “slow food” served up quickly, and readily available.
What do you hope your guests say when they leave your restaurant?
I love to hear, and I hope to hear, that people have had three excellent pieces to their experience at Ellary’s Greens.
First, I want to hear that they felt welcomed, and that our customer service allowed them to feel connected to the entire experience and to their food. I want them to be wowed by our customer service and to say, “I want to come back here.”
Second, I want them to love the decor, and gain a sense of what Ellary’s Greens is from the minute they walk in. I want them to see that the care that we take on the interior reflects the care that we put into their food.
Third, the most important thing I want them to say is that they feel fantastic. That their mouth feels like it’s had a party, but their body has enough energy to dance. I want them to say the food was delicious and that they want to come back. I want them to say, “gosh, there are so many things on this menu that I want to try.”
Regarding food specifically, what food legacy do you want to leave behind?
My dream is really to change the food landscape in New York City, and maybe nation-wide. Instead of a world in which we have a McDonald’s, a Burger King, a Taco Bell, and a Dunkin’ Donuts on every corner, I want to see a world in which we have an Ellary’s Greens, a salad concept, a juice concept, a healthy quick-serve place on every corner. I want there to be places where every choice is a healthy choice — so that we can look and feel better. And live better.