Archive for 'wake county 360'

December 20, 2013

So Wake County 360? It’s so incredible to shoot and write. Incredible, I say.

But it takes forever to produce just one post. So I’m on hiatus for a short time while I tend to my two under two for a while.

It will be back at a time TBD.

I first met Leslie of Raleigh Raw at the Food Truck Rodeo in downtown Raleigh. In a sea of fried foods, pizza, ice cream, and other DELICIOUS sounding food. She was selling juice. But not just ANY juice–quite possibly the most nutritious stuff on earth.

100% organic, small batch, cold pressed juice.

(Disclaimer: I’m not as much of a health nut as this blog post will indicate. I genuinely like this business and what they are doing. And when my interest in health, science, local businesses, and food converge. Well, you get this.) I emailed Leslie as soon as I could because I knew I had to feature Raleigh Raw on the blog. Not only because I was impressed with the way Leslie and Sherif were approaching juice making, but also because many people don’t get what they are doing. As of this writing, they are only about a month old and the growth they have experienced in that short time is incredible–from about 20 juices a week to over 250. As you read this, they are probably selling more.

I met Leslie and Sherif at their apartment, aka “the business headquarters.” They were warm and inviting, which is remarkable, given that they had worked through the night to make the juice for that day. (Don’t tell them I said this, but they looked a little bit sleepy and were working on coffee when I arrived.) In case you are wondering as I did, they are “together” and the cutest couple at that. When I finally had the courage to ask the question, Leslie was quick to point out that they were not engaged. In response, Sherif ducked behind my little assistant. I couldn’t help but point out that hiding behind a baby isn’t the best way to avoid the marriage question and luckily, everyone had a good laugh. I love people who can take a good joke. First up, a Q & A based on our conversation that morning on their sunlit patio.

What makes this juice special?

Imagine if you could do better than a salad. Fresh, whole foods. Lots of greens and a nice variety of vegetables. But there’s that “I don’t really want to eat a whole salad” downside of salads, no? Enter juice. It takes all the veggies in your salad and extracts the enzymes, vitamins, minerals, and phytonutrients from those veggies and bottles them up. Drinking your veggies is ridiculously more tasty than eating a salad. Plus, letting your body skip having to digest all the roughage of the veggies is a great way to give your body a break and clean you out a bit. (More on “cleanses” later–that’s as crazy hippie as I get here, promise.)

What makes Raleigh Raw’s juice so special?

  1. It tastes great! Putting green things in a juice press is best left to experts. It can taste gross pretty quickly because some fruits and veggies are pretty potent in flavor. But, Leslie and Sherif are bartenders and appreciate a good cocktail. They are experts at making balanced, delicious drinks and know how to find that perfect ratio of veggies to make a great juice.
  2. It’s organic. If you’re going to consume massive amounts of veggies at once, it’s best if those veggies have never seen a pesticide, eh?
  3. It’s cold-pressed. There are lots of ways to make juice but a cold press is king and many companies skimp in this area because it’s costly and messy. However, only a cold press can fully retain the nutrition of the juice.
  4. It’s made from nearly all local produce. Lemons don’t grow in NC, but nearly everything else in the juice is so Raleigh Raw ensures they are purchasing local ingredients. They are often making juice from kale that was grown in the ground the day before. Because juice is designed to be consumed within a few days, you are getting the maximum nutrition from the produce, unlike a salad that has probably been shipped for hundreds of miles or has been sitting on a shelf for a week.

How long does it take to make a juice?

For anyone who has tried this in their kitchen, it’s time consuming. Made one bottle at a time, it took them about 8 minutes per 16oz serving at first which is relatively fast! Raleigh Raw has sped up their process in a variety of ways and can make them much faster now, if 30 per hour is fast to you…¬† I hung out with them at their kitchen one night from about 11pm-1am and I assure you, this is a slow process. I didn’t have the patience to stay all night to see all the batches of juice being made. That’s why most of the photos of the juice you see are just green!

Who cares about all this nutrient stuff?

I consider myself a fairly healthy eater. We try to stick with brown bread and integrate fresh veggies in our meals. But I love hot dogs and pizza. And I don’t ban them from our home by any means. However, I am learning that there are ways to integrate nutritious foods into my life. I add greens to smoothies. We put fruit in our oatmeal and pancakes. You get it.

Here is what you are already eating for lunch on an average day based on my Facebook poll: Chickfila. Peanut butter and jelly. Sandwich with roast/cheese with blueberries. Healthy Choice TV dinner. Veggie chili. Quesadilla. Pizza. Ham and cheese sandwich. Chocolate cupcake. Takeout Japanese. Salad. Chicken dinner. Casserole with potato chips.

Just like me, it’s a mix of both pretty good and pretty bad. And when we acknowledge what we REALLY eat, we can all find ways to improve. For me, adding smoothies and fresh juice is a nice way. I also try not to use them to wash Oreos down. After all, when your body is getting the nutrition it needs, you will be less hungry.

Sherif is so passionate about making juice after watching family members struggle with the typical diseases associated with the Western diet–issues we are likely to face personally or with family members. He’s a well studied nutritionist and just the person you want at the helm of this kind of operation. He explains it this way:

Raleigh Raw is taking out of food what everyone has added over the years so that you can feel the way nature intended you to feel.

Nature actually did better than how most of us feel day to day. But we’ve messed up food over the years and created “edible food-like products” to quote the great Michael Pollan. Raleigh Raw is helping us fix that in a way that is FAST and EASY.

How do they make this juice?

Here is a photo essay from the night I drove to meet them in their makeshift kitchen space. Note: The actual juicer is not in these photos for a few reasons. The only one that really matters is that it sprays enough that camera would get all dirty. Juicing is MESSY. First, the produce is washed and scrubbed using a few different solutions that include lemon juice, salt, and vinegar. It’s measured out to ensure the proper ratio of each item in the final mix. Next, a big juicing machine grinds up whatever fresh produce you throw in it and has an outlet for juice. The pulp is completely dry once you remove it. Pretty neat stuff.

But this whole process isn’t easy! The greatest challenge they face is refrigeration. It takes tons of produce to make juice and although the produce is usually delivered the day they juice, it has to be stored somewhere cold in the meantime. With a few strategically planned trips, they are able to get produce in place for a juicing night like this:

How can I buy juice?

Currently, juice is available from their website in three different packages: Juice Cleanse Packages, Frequent Buyer Programs, and an A La Carte Menu (3 juice minimum). Those inside the beltline will enjoy free delivery and those outside can have front door service for just $5. Most other companies that offer this product charge FedEx overnight rates so this is a steal!

Whether you want a juice tasting, a great drink mixer for a party, or a cleanse during the holidays, Raleigh Raw has you covered. I’m no expert on cleanses but I do know that it’s a great way to reset your body while still giving it the nutrition it needs. Learn more on their website.

What flavor juice can I try?

You can find the varieties below (as well as a few rotated flavors) at their website for less than you’d pay for a take out meal. And about the same price as those sugar-laden “naked” juices that are most certainly not full of vegetables.

  • KALE ME MAYBE¬† | Kale, Spinach, Cucumber, Celery, Granny Smith Apple, Parsley, Pear, Lemon, and Ginger.
  • ROCK STEADY | Beet, Lemon, Cucumber, Carrot, Celery, Apple, Parsley and Ginger.
  • TANG | Orange, Apple, Carrot, and Ginger.
  • BE NO EGO | Mint, Apple, Cucumber, Pineapple.
  • REGULATOR | Swiss Chard, Romaine, Cucumber, Celery, Apple, Lemon.

My favorite flavors are Kale Me Maybe and Be No Ego although I will personally vouch for them all!

When I walked into Man Mur Shoe Shop for my quick interview with the manager, I asked for Ronnie, just as I had been instructed. The man who was crouched on the floor, assisting a fifty-something women with a pair of Sanita clogs in the colors of her alma mater, said to me: “Ronnie ran out the back a few minutes ago. He said he was headed to the liquor store because some photographer lady was coming by to take pictures for her blog.”


I fell for it, guys. As I was making myself comfortable and perusing the store for my next pair of shoes, that same man came over and introduced himself as Ronnie. Sigh. You know gullible isn’t in the dictionary, right?

Over the course of the next hour, I hung out at Man Mur and watched Ronnie interact with his customers, mostly selling them new shoes. I wanted to make sure he could care for them first, so each time someone walked in, I assured him that I didn’t mind waiting. There were two best friends from out of town shopping for a pair of wedding shoes who had me laughing so hard, I wanted to follow them to their next errand. On the other side of the store, Ronnie’s cousin, Steve, assisted people dropped off shoes that needed to be shined, dress shoes needing new heels, and work boots needing new soles. What’s Man Mur all about?

Man Mur offers repair service, various casual dress mid-range shoes, and the best customer service — you’ll get waited on quickly and treated with respect.

Steven and Ronnie bought the shoe shop from a previous owner in 1982. At the end of that day, there was $6.00 in the cash register and they were….concerned. They quickly opened the retail portion of the store, after a small expansion and business began thriving.


Their shoes range from $80-$140. But Ronnie explains, “Much like mattresses or tires, you get what you pay for. When you buy a shoe, you undergird your entire body.” People bring back Birkenstocks for resoling regularly — some purchased as early as the 1980s. Once you factor in the weekly or yearly cost, it’s a bargain! They also carry brands from many countries including Poland, Germany, Hawaii. If it’s not got a bit of leather and is designed to be thrown away, it’s not at his store!

Ronnie goes for a Cracker Barrel feel with a social media presence. Man Mur is on Facebook and they announce their specials there! After all, Ronnie is reminded of the importance of social media daily as he watches the NC State student population poke at their cell phones while walking to class.

On the day I visited, they had 8 boxes of shoes to repair. Ideally, the they would hire another person to repair shoes. However, it’s such a specialized task that it made more sense to hire someone to help make calls and help customers. Here are a few shots of the repair area. It’s “well-used,” but has an almost historic feel. Skilled labor at it’s finest.

Ronnie and Steven are running an amazing store, guys. I felt like family the entire time I was in the store and it’s clear that they really care about each other, their store, and their customers. Check them out the next time you need a new pair of shoes or repair!

New to Jess Rotenberg Photography? Learn more about what I can do for your family!

The good news is that I’ve had a huge jump in bookings lately so I’ve had to put the Wake County 360 series on pause since March. Not exactly what I intended but I’m trying not to get all bent out of shape about it. Which is hard, because that’s my tendency when things don’t go according to plan.

The other bit of good news is that I’ve got my next interview scheduled on May 22 with one of my FAVORITE local businesses. I won’t give away who quite yet but I will say that they make their product in downtown Raleigh and have a beautiful boutique store that is so colorful that it draws you in from blocks away.

After a brief Christmas hiatus, Wake County 360 is back again. A reader suggested that we chat with Neomonde, a local Raleigh restaurant right between North Carolina State University and Meredith College on Beryl Road. So off we went and it was AMAZING!

When I entered the restaurant, I was greeted by someone who looked like the owner, but a bit younger. I quickly realized that this had to be his son. While waiting on his father to wrap another appointment, Chris welcomed me, and grabbed a folder of old family photographs for us to peruse. Neomonde is celebrating its 35 year anniversary so the photographs from the late 1970s did not disappoint. There were photos of the original bakery which used jeweler cases to display breads and pastries. There were pictures of family members in the kitchen and out that were discolored with age. Chris fondly remembers when Neomonde first opened as a bakery, it was located near Nur Deli. He would visit and play Ms. PacMan while drinking mango juice. You know, the stuff childhood memories are made of.

However, Sam remembers those early days of Neomonde differently. After emigrating to America in 1975 from the small village in northern Lebanon, he and his family missed Lebanese food. It was nowhere to be found in Raleigh and that is what began their dream: make amazing bread that was as delicious as they had enjoyed at home. Sam’s uncle, who was the director of the NC Museum of Art at the time provided a little encouragement. Then, Sam, his mother, Cecelia, and his brothers all joined forces to start Neomonde, a small bakery offering their authentic bread to the Raleigh community. Since then, the little bakery off of Medlin Drive has turned into a huge operation consisting of a stand alone bakery facility in Morrisville that ships across the country and three deli locations in the Triangle that serve family recipes (Beryl Road, Strickland Road, and Chapel Hill Road). Here is a visual overview of the items in the grocery section of the Beryl Road deli section.

(Sidenote: At this point, only five minutes into our chat, Sam looks at me and says “he can sit with me if you like” and gestures for my son, who accompanies me on certain assignments. And if that wasn’t endearing enough, Sam is so genuine in his responses. Though his command of English is perfect, he has a slight hesitation as he selects the precise word he wants. In a world where we all seem to just talk and talk, this precision is something I really admire.)

He hopes that his customers can appreciate the “true” Neomonde as a family. They are constantly inspired by his mom’s teaching. Pictured below, she works daily to ensure quality control. Not only does she taste each dish to ensure that each one meets her standards, she also blesses them. Sam explained how staff members bring them over and allow her to actually place her hands over each one. I don’t know about you, but I would really prefer to eat at restaurants where each dish is blessed by a matriarch.

Neomonde is the real deal when it comes to a family-owned, local restaurant that serves really fresh food.

Sam says, “We don’t cook for the restaurant, we cook like we do for ourselves. We cook with a true meaning for the community.”

He also explained that everyone at Neomonde truly appreciates the recognition from the community in the form of awards because community matters so much to them. Sam remembers fondly the people who have been part of his life as customers for years. There are THIRD generation Neomonde customers visiting him regularly now. He says, “There is no transient feeling.” The dishes they cook are based on recipes that their family cooked in their hometown of Mazraat El-Toufah (meaning apple orchard). They simply cooked what they grew. Fun fact: the image behind Sam in his portrait above depicts the village itself.

He laughs at the current trend of organic produce. He says everything we made was organic by nature because we didn’t have chemicals in that era. Doesn’t that sound ideal?

After our short chat, Sam took me to the back to show me some of the kitchen and introduce me to Cecelia. Even though I knew I’d probably see fresh veggies being transformed into delicious food, it was still a huge treat to see in action! Piles of freshly peeled eggplant, a huge vat of boiling chickpeas (for hummus), fresh lettuces being rinsed, and juicy red tomatoes. I also got a glimpse of grape leaves being assembled, or Neomonde cigars as they are affectionately referred. At least one box of lemons gets juiced daily and everything is chopped by hand, just as home cooked goodness should be.

I truly felt like family during the hour I spent with the Salehs. Not only did everyone coo my little sidekick over and over, he was also kissed him more times than I could keep track of by at least three different people. We felt loved! Sam sent me with some food as well for good measure: roasted eggplant in tomato sauce, a lentil dish with caramelized onions, and some traditional hummus and tabbouleh. I wish it had lasted long enough to actually photograph but it was SO delicious. In an age when the “best” food is full of salt, sugar, and fat, it’s refreshing to eat food that is as wholesome as it is tasty.

As I was leaving and tying up some loose ends, he tells me I can call or text anytime. I *should* have hid my surprise at hearing text, but I didn’t. Lucky for me, he noticed my slip, looked at me and said, “Yeah, I’m cool, I text.” Touche, Sam, touche.

To plan a visit, check out Neomonde’s website by clicking here.

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