116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
CEDAR RAPIDS — For some good cooks, giving away food is the start of a profitable business model.
That’s partly how Leafy Bar, a new spot offering healthy eats in the Lindale Mall Food Court, was conceived. Owner LaToya Wright was just minding her own business, posting on Facebook pictures of the food she loved to make at home for her kids.
“I started cooking from home and I would post every dish I would cook,” she said. “People would ask if I could sell the plates.”
Working from home without permits, she had to decline. But before long, the pressure to be her own boss was too much to resist for the former Arby’s shift manager.
After giving away one of her signature salads, the floodgates opened.
“It started with one nurse at Mercy Medical Center. She asked if she could buy one, which she couldn’t,” Wright said, still making her food at home. So the Leafy Bar owner gave it away.
“The next day, I had 12 nurses wanting a salad,” she said.
After getting her feet wet with some catering gigs, Wright jumped into the food court feet first, filling the mall’s former Subway booth, thanks to her friend’s encouragement.
What: Leafy Bar
Where: Lindale Mall Food Court, 4444 First Ave. NE, Cedar Rapids
Hours: 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday through Thursday; 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday; noon to 6 p.m. Sunday
Contact: (319) 431-4451; Leafy Bar on Facebook
Details: Located in Lindale Mall, food at Leafy Bar can be eaten in the food court or taken as carryout; food also can be ordered for delivery via DoorDash
“I think I hit a gold mine,” she told herself after more Facebook posts proved her food’s popularity. “I’m going to take it. I’m going to give it a try.”
Like many stories of new restaurants opened by passion, the experienced restaurant employee — but freshman restaurateur — has found herself using her passions as a new source of income.
“I enjoy cooking, that’s my peace of mind,” Wright said.
Although she’s also known for more traditional soul foods — Philly cheesesteak egg rolls, jerk chicken egg rolls and cornbread bowls — the focus of her place in Lindale’s food court is on healthy food that still has soul. With a new gym opening next door in the mall, she saw an opportunity to put a new spin on healthy food as she turned a new leaf, opening Leafy Bar on June 25.
“Mainly, no fried food,” she with Leafy Bar.
While her salads feature a variety of meats and toppings, she also offers a novelty you’ll be hard pressed to find in many other restaurants: fruit flavored pickles.
Using her aunt’s recipe, these pickles take on an entirely new flavor profile that is not an exaggeration of their labeled flavor. Sour apple, pineapple, tropical punch and strawberry are just a few of the flavors that add a sweet, crunchy punch to her offerings.
“I want them to feel the flavors. I want everything to come out in the flavors I use,” Wright said. “I want them to taste the love.”
The owner also is known by loyal patrons for her hoagies made with a special oil using vinegar and herbs. Inspired by Home of the Hoagy in Chicago, she uses thinly sliced onions, banana peppers, cheese and mayo to bring a regional twist to the classic.
The hot corned beef sandwich, one of several hot sandwich offerings, also is popular. Salads are priced at 10 to $15 and sandwiches are $8 to $10.
With cooking inspired by her mother, she is working to stay true to her mother’s all-from-scratch style as she perfects her salad dressings.
“I just remember her being up all night with her towel above her shoulder and cooking,” Wright said. “She always made everything from scratch. I can’t recall my mama using a boxed anything.”
While Wright’s initial vision for Leafy Bar was as a salad bar, which had to be repackaged with the pandemic, she still has a vision for something more, calling her food court opening her starter restaurant. Soon, she hopes to open “Leafy Bar and More,” a full salad bar with lunch specials that can showcase her ability to cook soul food.
With reasonable rent, decent traffic levels and a good location between Cedar Rapids and Marion, she said the spot has proved to be a good incubator for her business so far.
“I wake up in the morning sometimes and I can’t believe it,” said Wright, 40. “I have a restaurant. I can’t wait for it to grow.”
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