Jared Howard is a 45-year-old African-American man, who has worked as an IT project manager and lives in Hoboken, N.J., and like the Rev. Martin Luther King, he, too, has a dream. His dream is to open a restaurant, based on the three years he spend developing recipes. And he has partnered with a non-profit to make it happen.
A new non-profit venture, Good to Go, part of the James Beard Foundation (JBF) helped Howard open pop-up Honey Bunny for a 6-month residency at Market 57 Food Hall at 15th Street in the far west Chelsea. The partnership, which includes sponsorship from Pepsi-Dig In, is aimed to “drive business growth, and awareness of Black-owned restaurants and chefs,” according to Good to Go.
Showing his dedication, Howard interned to learn his craft for free, at certain Manhattan fine-dining eateries, Per Se, Gotham Restaurant and The Cecil. He juggled his IT job with his chef’s interning duties by taking vacation time, working weekends, and via catering events.
He became passionate about becoming a chef because of his fond recollections of dinner connecting with family back in Baltimore and visiting relatives in North Carolina.
A pop-up Honey Bunny at Market 57 in Chelsea is part of an effort to boost more African American chefs through a new James Beard Foundation non-profit program, Good to Go.
It operates as a pop-up window located in the tail end of Market 57, with a small sign to the left (look for it carefully; it can be missed) saying Honey Bunny. Market 57 is a food hall with about 15 food vendors including Nom Wah Tea Parlor and often-praised Thai eatery originally from Queens, Zaab Zaab.
Howard named it Honey Bunny, because that was his 11-year-old daughter’s Zaria’s nickname based on the cartoon Bugs Bunny’s wife.
James Beard Foundation Encourages Business Growth
Asked what this opportunity means to him, Howard replies, “Are you kidding me? A partnership with the James Beard Foundation is a once in a lifetime opportunity.” Not only does it provide the space and some staff support, but also offers media training, brand development and financial counseling.
The Good to Go program enables him to focus on the business side of the food industry, including writing a business plan, branding and refining the customer experience. It has also fostered partnerships between Honey Bunny and culinary brands such as McCormick Spice Company ,and Tabasco Inc, which has donated supplies.
Having the James Beard Foundation (JBF) support him reduced his start-up costs to a modest $1,000 to get Honey Bunny off the ground.
Why was Honey Bunny selected among the other applicants? Kris Moon, president and chief operating officer of the James Beard Foundation, noted that Howard had already executed several pop-up eateries and he seemed primed to transition into a brick-and-mortar location.
The goal, Moon notes, is that by the time the residency ends, chef Howard “will feel prepared to take that next step (if he wishes), having had the opportunity to flesh out recipes, menu pricing, branding, and other key business elements.”
Mid-Atlantic-Inspired Comfort Food
Howard describes the crux of the menu as “mid-Atlantic-inspired comfort food.” Honey Bunny’s food specializes in Maryland fried chicken, Chesapeake seafood burger (a crab shrimp patty), buttermilk Caesar salad, and banana pudding.
The menu is streamlined with only a handful of items, understandable given its limited space and area for food preparation. Nonetheless, the menu has endured several revisions, taking in consumer feedback.
What makes the taste of his fried chicken distinctive is its being “brined in hot sauce and finished with a dusting of Old Bay seasoning,” chef Howard revealed.
The exposure at Market 57 has lifted its brand awareness “which has doubled and tripled since we started here,” he says. “It’s taken us from the concept stage and turned it into a business,” he adds.
Howard has learned about profit and loss statements, supply chain costs, developing a business model, all of which, he hopes, will enable him to attract investors.
Next Stage: Find Investors
After his six-month residency ends on March 1, 2024, the next step will be finding investors to open a brick-and-mortar Honey Bunny, not just a pop-up. He’d prefer to stay in the Chelsea area where he has built up its brand’s name, but he’s flexible and could end up anywhere.
Starting in March 2024 “I’ll start talking to investors and gauging their interest, “ he says. Opening a tiny retail eatery in Manhattan can cost a quarter of a million dollars and upwards.
What will it take to open a brick-and-mortar eatery? Howard says, “It takes lawyers, marketing staff, everything has to hit at the same time. You need more than silent investors; you need a team with different skills including a chef, a branding manager, a general manager.” It takes a village.