Jordan Brown: Taking a Bite into the Food Industry
By Katie Ambrosini
The smell of wood shavings and fresh paint permeated the air as I first walked into the mysterious, unopened restaurant, Hu Kitchen, on 5th avenue and 14th street. There was a handful of other people doing the same thing I was doing– applying for jobs. As I was filling out my application, a man with striking blue eyes and strong arms, who was sitting at a dusty table, caught my attention. His blonde hair was trimmed to a buzz cut and he wore flip flops, khaki pants, and a henley shirt. I stopped staring as Mia, one of the mangers called me up for the interview. I was hired, and before leaving, Mia introduced me to the owner and creator– Jordan Brown– the beautifully sculpted and blue-eyed man I was admiring earlier. I was surprised: he seemed to young and too relaxed to be at the head of all of this. He flashed a humble smile and introduced himself. “Hey, I’m Jordan. Glad to have you working for us,” he said. I awkwardly spitted out a “t-t-hank you, me too.” I left slightly embarrassed and a little surprised of my new boss.
Although my stay at HU Kitchen was short-lived, Jordan remained an inspiration and a curiosity to me. I met Jordan again in March to talk. I still found myself stumbling over my words as he greeted me with those dashing blue eyes.
Before opening HU Kitchen, a paleo-inspired restaurant that focuses on wholesome eating, Jordan was a real estate developer. Never in a million years did he see himself opening a restaurant. “I was never a cook. I had no culinary background,” he told me.
For Jordan, his interest in food and nutrition began in an airport. “I was bored. Frankly hung over at the Las Vegas airport.” He spotted a book 20 feet away from him at a kiosk. It looked a little worn and read, so he picked it up with curiosity. The book opened up his eyes to a lot of topics he had never heard of: gluten, blood sugar, and how you can use food as a catalyst for increasing energy levels. After the airport read, Jordan was inspired to adjust and change his eating habits. “I was wowed by energy level increase, skin tone, everything. ….it made me realize I was pretty much interested in the science of food and nutrition.”
After that book, Jordan was ravenous for any material and literature on food and diets. He tried veganism, vegetarianism, cutting out high fructose fruits, isolating variables and pulling them out of the diet and then putting them back in and seeing what the changes were. He eventually came across a book, The Primal Blueprint, which introduced the concept of the paleo diet, or the caveman diet. The diet focuses on food that our ancestors ate: it’s heavy in nuts, fresh fruit and vegetables. Jordan was once again inspired. He cut out grains, legumes, dairy and a few other things from his diet. “Nothing worked faster and more furiously than that.” Jordan noticed the effects of this diet, glowing skin and higher levels of energy and stamina, nearly immediately. “This diet worked the best,” said Brown. Jordan has followed the paleo diet strictly for the past three years now.
I took a quick second to surreptitiously look at Jordan as he was answering a phone order. His skin is radiant, glowing and energized. Although he is in his early thirties, no sign of age or fatigue has hit him. There are no wrinkles on his face, no bags under his eyes and no saggy skin. Not even a grey hair has sprouted. It’s as if there is some magical youth serum in his water. Is that what alkaline water (the only water they serve at HU, by the way) has in it? It is not the water, however. “If you want to . . . increase your probability of aging gracefully without relying on a pill or doctor, one of the easiest things you can do is be mindful of what you’re eating,” explained Jordan. I glanced up at his youthful skin and energetic eyes one more time. I nodded my head and agreed.
It wasn’t until the Fall of 2012 that Jordan opened HU Kitchen. What was once a book store, is now a modern, sleek, primal designed restaurant– a modern cave, if you will. The wood furnishings and the stone colored walls bring out the ancestral spirit in restaurant goers. The seats resemble polished tree stumps and hunks of stone. However, Jordan did not open this restaurant just on his own. His sister, Jessica, was a major force and inspiration for the concept behind HU.
“My sister and I butted heads a lot. She was the typical New York City person who works out a ton and then has frozen yogurt for dinner… and then she can’t understand why she’s not getting the results she wants” Jordan was annoyed by his sister’s eating habits. However, after her first daughter, Jordan’s words finally got through to his sister. Out of concern for her own health and her daughter’s, Jessica said no to processed foods and fad diets.
In the meantime, Jordan became even more enamored and attentive to the food that he put into his body. Ingredients fascinated him and he was meticulous about reading the nutrition labels on all of the things he bought. “I became a bloodhound for all of the ingredients of the foods and things I was buying and I became a bloodhound for the B.S of the food industry.” It angered Jordan that he saw the word “natural” put on everything. “The word means nothing,” said Jordan his voice heightened. “Those words are just crock of shit.”
In an attempt to fight back against the food industry, Jordan and Jessica created HU, short for Human. “Me and my sister decided to create a venue, where people can trust what is going in the food.” For Jordan and Jessica, this meant food that was very high quality: food that had no hormones, no antibiotics, and tasted delicious.
“It’s time to sop being neurotic and having this combative relationship with our food, where we’re so focused on whether or not there is fat in it, and the amount of calories in it.”
As Jordan ran up stairs to help an employee, I peered out of the office and observed the chefs. The aroma of turmeric, onion, and fresh cashews floated in the air as the chefs whipped up some of my favorite cashew-cream spinach. It’s creamy, satisfying, soft and gooey. I thought to myself, ‘this is what Jordan means by quality food.’ The ingredients are simple: cashew, onion, turmeric and spinach. The ingredients are locally sourced when possible, and they are all 100 percent organic. No chemicals. No GMOs. Just food the way it should be. Many of the ingredients even come right from the Union Square Green Market.
For Jordan, HU kitchen is just the beginning. He recognizes that a lot of large food industries have huge budgets and with government subsidies, changing the food industry will be a slow road. However, he is passionate and is sure that things will change. “You can’t stop the public from saying ‘Hey, I need to know whats in my food, and if it’s really junk, I’m gonna spend a little more to know what’s in it’,” said Jordan, with fervor and passion in his voice. Jordan has plans on expanding HU Kitchen and their products. They are already selling they’re cashew cream and chocolate bars at the Whole Foods in Columbus Circle.
“HU Kitchen appeals to a broad audience,” said Jordan. The restaurant is not just vegan or vegetarian. They have everything. Except gluten.
During my first month working at HU, I honestly didn’t think the restaurant would make it. The evening shifts were slow, and some nights less than 20 people came in. I knew the ingredients and meat that HU bought was expensive and that with some of the products, they barely made a profit. I noticed however, that Jordan never stopped believing. He made himself present– he charmed and talked to guests, introduced himself and tried his best to remember names and faces. And he encouraged the staff to do the same. In the first few weeks of opening the restaurant he would often sneak in a free chocolate bar to some of the customers. Jordan’s demeanor and sincere efforts to gain a loyal customer base succeeded. By December, the restaurant was fairly popular and there were a handful of regulars. There was even a guy that came in for every meal of the day. He receives a 10% discount now. When I visited this Spring, the chefs and employees reported that the restaurant was doing the best its ever done.
The real-estate developer turned food defender, has no regrets about his personal transition and change of pace. “This is my passion. To actually do something that you’re really passionate about and that you learn that you’re passionate about, is very cool. I’m very happy about this.”