Natural foods restaurant coming to Intracoastal Plaza at Beach Boulevard and San Pablo Road.
Wen Raiti expects to open the House of Leaf & Bean about Nov. 16, or as soon after as possible.
“We’re almost there,” Raiti said Wednesday as work continued on the former Taco Bell that she and her husband are transforming into a natural foods restaurant.
Signarama hoisted the pole signs Wednesday morning at 14474 Beach Blvd. The signs state that Leaf & Bean is an organic café with a drive-thru.
Raiti said she is working with a refugee organization to help hire about 20 employees with diverse backgrounds.
Raiti moved from China to Pittsburgh in 2000. She and her husband, Jon, relocated to Jacksonville in 2006.
After eating a lot of popular American food, Raiti was diagnosed with a digestive condition.
Research led her to focus on regular exercise, meditation and a fresh, organic, healthy diet, like the plant-based protein she grew up eating in China with soy products like tofu and soy milk.
She wants to share those results with customers.
Wen and Jon Raiti are transforming the former Taco Bell in the Intracoastal Plaza at Beach Boulevard and San Pablo Road into “Leaf & Bean, where west meets east.” The “opening soon” wall sign describes it as an organic and natural café for the mind, body and spirit.
Interior Buildouts Inc. is the contractor for the 1,939-square-foot project. The total project is expected to top $300,000. The restaurant will seat 40 to 50 customers.
The exterior has been repainted green and white. Inside, the Raitis have installed equipment that includes a tofu-making machine.
Wen Raiti is an accountant and Jon Raiti is an importer-exporter.
The House of Leaf & Bean says on its Facebook page that it “strives to provide a unique culture and culinary experience that educates the mind and lifts the spirit. We hope to educate Jacksonville consumers and teach them that eating organically can be affordable, functional, and delicious.”
It will become the only organic drive-thru cafe in the city, it says.
The restaurant includes a Zen room where Leaf & Bean will offer free meditation sessions and traditional Chinese tea ceremonies. It is device-free to alleviate the stress caused by cellphones, tablets and other electronics.
Wen Raiti said Wednesday the Zen room will seat up to 10 people who can relax, listen to soothing music, read, meditate and drink tea.
A tea table sits in the center. Wall décor will show peaceful scenes. Window coverings will mitigate the view of Beach Boulevard and background music will help mask the sound of traffic. A water fountain also will help to block the outside noise.
Raiti said Leaf & Bean corporate officer Anish Mehra, a technologist for a New York-based IT company with a presence in Jacksonville, will lead meditation classes. She has been meditating with Mehra for years.
She built an advisory panel of nine people, including Mehra and other officers along with a food scientist, a tea master, a production and HR director, a PR and marketing director, a researcher, others and Dennis Chan, chef and owner of Blue Bamboo, as her restaurant adviser.
Leaf & Bean’s menu at houseofleafnbean.com shows house specials include handmade dumplings, mushroom croquettes and edamame hummus. The menu also lists salads, protein smoothies, teas, coffees, and beer and wine.
Offerings include vegan, vegetarian, gluten-free and low-carb items.
Raiti said her goal is to offer natural food and a de-stressing environment to help customers achieve balance, moderation and healthy eating.
“We wanted to do something good for the community,” she said.