It was first planted in a tiny corner space of the Atherton Mill and Market in 2009 — a haven for those in search of living food, a small restaurant with the worthy mission of "bringing health, beauty and art to the plate." Since then, the sustainably-minded staff at Luna's Living Kitchen has captured the hearts of Charlotteans one plate at a time. The mostly raw, plant-based eatery, working to nurture the city's health-conscious, is now blossoming in the form of healthy economic growth, manifesting in a new restaurant space and brand extensions.
Luna's Living Kitchen recently acquired a new home across the parking lot from its current location in South End. The new locale (formerly occupied by Zucca Pizza Tavern) is tentatively scheduled to open in January 2014. The plans are to have almost 100 seats occupying the 1,500-square-foot space. That's almost double the square footage the restaurant currently occupies in the 800-square-foot space next to Atherton Market.
As a result, the menu will increase in size, too. A bigger kitchen will allow Luna's staff to introduce seasonal items and expand on the fresh food concept with a list of rotating specials and a few cooked items. Of course, the focus on fresh, organic vegan cuisine will remain front and center. In addition to community tables and event space, the new restaurant will serve local beer and organic wines, another first for Luna's.
More growth came in early October, when Luna's released a sleek refrigerated juice delivery truck to the streets of Charlotte. The customized vehicle packs a rainbow of fresh, organic juices to sell roadside at local businesses like Hilliard Studio and Flywheel Charlotte.
Luna's is also set to distribute packaged goods to the Healthy Home Market beginning this month.
When Juliana Luna first launched her small business with husband Randy Powell, the restaurant had four employees in total. "It was me, my husband and two friends running around like chickens," Juliana says.
Today, Luna's Living Kitchen employs 38 individuals between its two entities, the South Boulevard restaurant and the annex, which opened in September 2012 off Winnifred Street in Uptown. Many of the fresh-pressed juices and packaged goods are prepared there.
"Before the annex opened," says Hannah Lehman, Luna's general manager, "we were making the packaged goods on the tables in the restaurant after business hours." Lehman's addition to the staff in 2012 has afforded the opportunity to have Luna's open for dinner, and more importantly, it freed up Juliana to work behind the scenes with her business partner Stephen Edwards on a long-term vision.
As a result of her partnership with Edwards, says Juliana, things have really flourished. Since Edwards joined the team in 2012, the restaurant has launched a fresh rebrand, including a new logo, increased production of packaged goods via the commissary kitchen and started the juice truck.
For Juliana, the growth comes secondary to the original philosophy of the restaurant.
"We are giving nutrition to the people," she says. "I am always thinking about how to make the experience better for our team members and thinking about my other responsibility, too, which is to create jobs."
The company culture at Luna's is unique. Most of the staff are not culinarily trained. Rather, they are an amalgam of gardeners, designers, mothers and students who share a similar passion for living foods.
"I try to bring everyone's personality to the table," says Juliana, who encourages creation and recipe development with her team.
She plans to continue building upon her vision, opening more locations here in Charlotte and beyond.
"I never thought Luna's was going to be what it is now," Juliana says. "It is a dream."