Bettina Stern and Suzanne Simon, the voices behind Loulies
, are testing a new venture at the White House farmer's market now through the end of October. The pair will be offering seasonally inspired vegetarian tacos at the market on Thursdays from 11 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. as they determine the best brick-and-mortar location for their new restaurant, Chaya
Stern believes that the time has come to open Chaya as a restaurant. "We've been considering a restaurant based mostly on plants for a while now," she says. "Our style of cooking focuses on what's freshest at market and what's in season. We believe eating like this is healthiest both for people and for our planet. Real foods have seasons and taste superior when eaten as such."
Stern and Simon cofounded Chaya, a farm-to-table food startup, in 2012 as part of ThinkLocalFirst's StartUp Kitchen
competition (they were finalists). When Union Kitchen opened its incubator space, Chaya moved in, and Stern and Simon have been testing recipes at pop-up locations in preparation for a restaurant ever since.
"It's been much better than we ever could have expected," Stern says, of Chaya's reception at the market. "It's a great crowd—all different walks of life."
Chaya's market offerings will change with the produce that is available. "This week's [taco] trio is roasted asparagus with a creamy poblano sauce, market mushrooms with feta and a red sauce, and red-boar kale from an organic growers' cooperative with goat cheese and pickled red onions," Stern says. Next week's menu might include garlic scapes. "In July, we'll use eggplant, zucchini and tomatoes."
Patrons can mix and match the tacos and leave off ingredients if they wish. The homemade corn tortillas that cradle the fillings are gluten free, and most tacos can be made vegan as well. The taco trio costs $9.
Stern says Chaya is "slow cooked, fast casual [food] that is all about plants and is sustainable." That concept is at the forefront as she and Simon search for a permanent location. "I feel really strongly that [Chaya] should be triple bottom line. Eating sustainably and eating seasonally are two ways we can do it. We have to use really high-end ingredients. If we were to grow into something bigger, we would have to keep that integrity there."
She is still in the early stages of scouting locations but knows that in addition to sustainability, Chaya's new neighborhood has to have foot traffic. "We want to be in a real walking neighborhood," she says.