Mercer Island friends since kindergarten expand sandwich business to Capitol Hill

Mercer Island friends and business partners Brad Gillis, left, and Ben Friedman, recently opened a second store in Capitol Hill. The first Homegrown is located in Fremont. - Contributed photo
Mercer Island friends and business partners Brad Gillis, left, and Ben Friedman, recently opened a second store in Capitol Hill. The first Homegrown is located in Fremont.
— image credit: Contributed photo

When two Mercer Island High School graduates opened Homegrown, an environmentally-friendly sandwich shop in Fremont last year, they knew they’d be making a lot of lunches. Ever since July 12, though, when they opened a second location in Capitol Hill, they’ve been making a lot more.

Brad Gillis and Ben Friedman, who have been friends since they started kindergarten together on Mercer Island, said they employ about 40 percent more people than they used to when they first opened their Fremont location in March 2009. Since then, they have started catering, offering breakfast and weekend dinner, and they opened their new shop, where they plan to eventually offer dinner every day and late-night dining on the weekends, said Friedman.

“I would say Brad and I are both exhausted,” said Friedman, thinking back about the work the two have done over the past year. “But we both really love food first and foremost and we’re both still really engaged in it.”

By using compostable packaging and choosing ingredients carefully, Friedman said they have tried to reduce their environmental impact and use as much organic and local food as they can. With time, they are learning to do so more effectively, he said.

“We really try to choose ingredient by ingredient, using the environment as a second bottom line,” he said.

In doing so, they have learned to make choices that take proximity, organic processes and cost into account. Friedman said they try to buy organic produce, for instance, but tend to favor local meats and cheeses over organic ones because they have found that animal treatment is better at small, local farms.

Also, he said, they offer a seasonal component to their menu that incorporates local ingredients available at a given time of year.

Friedman said he and Gillis were trying to adapt Homegrown to their new location at Melrose Market, which is on the downtown side of Capitol Hill, a few blocks from the Convention Center.

“It’s a nice midpoint between the neighborhood vibe of Capitol Hill and the downtown business district,” he said.

He said so far they had found that there was steady traffic through the restaurant all day in the new location unlike the lunchtime rush they tend to have in Fremont. Friedman said they hoped to take advantage of the night life in their new neighborhood by eventually staying open later.

Even though he graduated from school on the Island a long time ago and he’s gone to college and started this restaurant since then, Friedman said his Mercer Island roots were still alive and well, and Islanders make his and Gillis’ restaurant a regular stop.

“It’s great to have all the Mercer Island moms come in all the time and say hi,” he said.

Homegrown eats

The Fremont store is located at 3416 Fremont Ave. N and is open Mon.-Thurs. 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. and Fri. - Sun. 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. Call them at (206) 453-5232.

The Capitol Hill store is located at 1531 Melrose Ave. and is open Mon. - Sun. 8 a.m. to 4 p.m.

Visit for more information.

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