Homegrown, a local chain of sandwich shops, will replace the family-owned Stopsky’s restaurant this fall and the new owners are native Islanders.
Ben Friedman and Brad Gillis have been friends since age 5, attended Mercer Island High School and launched their business plan in 2009, quickly growing to the eight stores now scattered throughout the Northwest.
“We always wanted to put a store on Mercer Island, for sure,” says Friedman. But it’s a difficult place to be in business. Most people leave the Island to eat. We grew up here and I can remember when we went out to eat, we often went off Island.”
Now Friedman and his partner hope to be a part of what Stopsky’s co-owner Jeff Sanderson calls a cultural “renaissance” for the city.
“In the last few years with all the new housing and the things being planned, we see a renaissance [happening] here,” said Sanderson, earlier this month. “That bodes well for a bunch of people to continue and take up the torch that we first lit with [Stopsky’s]”
Homegrown calls itself a socially conscious business. Not only are its ingredients locally sourced and organic, but Friedman and Gillis aim to make healthy food accessible to the masses. When the two started brainstorming business plans in 2007, that entrepreneurial spirit was largely new on the scene.
“This idea that you could come up with your own enterprise and make change, instead of working in the private sector and giving back when you’re 50, was a new one,” says Friedman.
Having grown up in the Northwest, he and Gillis both wanted to build a business that connected them to the environment. Food became the obvious choice.
“Few things connect people to the environmental cause more than the land itself,” says Friedman.
But while they set out to change people’s eating habits, they soon found that people already knew how to eat healthy. The problem was that they sacrificed their health goals, when they ate out. Affordable options were in such short supply.
“Really, it’s about changing the accessibility to this type of food,” he says.
Homegrown divides its menu into three main categories — soups, sandwiches and salads — all of them 100 percent organic, and many of it from Sprouting Farm in Woodinville. The menu includes a grilled cheese sandwich with tomato jam, a turkey, bacon and avocado option, as well as seasonal offerings which this fall will feature butternut squash with maple butter. Homegrown also caters for local businesses, weddings and special events.
Having such an immediate connection to local agriculture has taught them to not only appreciate the hard work that goes into each product, but to remain humble.
“We were 22 when we started,” says Friedman. “We knew nothing about what we were doing. That almost served as an advantage because we were always crowdsourcing when we faced a challenge.”
Now, the Island duo are coming home.
“The Island has changed a lot, the downtown has changed a lot,” says Friedman. “Some of it is for the better, and some of it is not. But it will be really fun to give back to our community.”
For more, visit www.eathomegrown.com.