By: Katie Sobiech
Imagine having a heart attack at just 35 years old. Julie Costello, founder of Ms. Julie’s Kitchen on South Main Street in Akron didn’t have to imagine; that was her reality. This scare, however, was a blessing in disguise. It caused her to think twice about the way she was eating; ultimately changing her life.
“Even with doctors, the news, and everyone telling us how to eat, we still don’t make the connection that what we eat is what we are,” Costello said, chopping up bright green lettuce for salads at her new restaurant, Ms. Julie’s Kitchen.
There is a revolution slowly happening; spreading throughout Northeast Ohio and other parts of the U.S. People are realizing the benefits of organic, local, nutrient-dense foods.
After Costello’s heart attack, her mom told her about “Hallelujah Acres”, an organization dedicated towards helping people achieve optimal health. They recommend a diet predominantly of raw fruits, vegetables, nuts and seeds; all vegan, to fight off disease.
“My mom did it and felt great and I was walking around sick as a dog and unhappy,” Costello said.
Seeing the change in her mother inspired her to do something. After getting on the nutrition plan she lost 125 pounds, but most importantly, she got better.
From there she says “I had to figure out how to make the food I was supposed to eat taste like the food I wanted to eat, so I just started playing around with it until I found things I liked.”
She shared these recipes at church potlucks which were received very well. This led to her writing three cookbooks including “Healthy for Him”, “Hallelujah Kids” and “Thank God for Raw” which sold 30,000.
She also began food preparation classes.
“I showed people what the food looked like, what you do with it, how you peel it, cook it and make it into something to eat,” she explained, “Statistics say that the fastest growing section in the grocery store is the prepared, ready to eat food because we’re all busy and we’re getting smart enough to know that we don’t want to eat fast or frozen food.”
After coming to this realization, Costello opened up Ms. Julie’s Kitchen on February 26th 2010.
“My goal with this place is, number one, to keep the cost down,” she said.
Having a home bakery for two years gave her prior experience, as well as selling through local farmers markets.
Her specialty is waffles which sold 12,000 last summer.
“We use local produce, which is great,” she said walking over to her “wall of fame” full of photos of local farmers.
“These are my celebrities,” she said, “my local farmers who bring us our food. Everybody has something different and they have the most beautiful organic produce. Huffman Fruit Farm is out in the Youngstown area and she brings apples, pears, peaches…several varieties of fresh peaches that you’re not going to get in the grocery store.”
Display tables of local food fill the café, offering a wide variety of options. You can find anything from coffee and tea, to pumpkin bread and maple syrup.
The kitchen serves all vegetarian food, and is fresh, local and/or organic.
“We try to keep it as organic as possibly,” Costello said.
Valuing Local Food
For her famous waffles, Costello buys grain from a farmer in Amish Country which she grinds into flower.
“We have a certified grower of spelt. I use a lot of that because many people with wheat allergies can eat it. I have this cool little kit right here that shows what I use in my classes,” she shared, holding up a set of vials filled with wheat ranging in color.
“This is the whole grain, the bran is removed in cereals and goes to the animal feed,” she said, pointing to the first vial, “the oil where you get all of your vitamin E is totally removed and what you end up with is white flour and they have to try to enrich it with fake vitamins and minerals because people are just going to die if you just eat it like that,” she explained.
Therefore, her purpose is to grind healthy, local grain so everything remains intact.
The Importance of Local Food
“When you pick food fresh and eat it as fresh as possible your nutrient value is higher; it’s all about nutrient density, and the main focus here is getting better. We not only want to support the local economy in the process, but we want to get better.”
Local food is not only better for the economy, but better for you.
“Once you cut a vegetable or pick it early and it doesn’t get to its full ripeness then it doesn’t develop its full nutrient value. Then you truck it across the country and waste all of this fuel, it’s gotta be picked early and then they have to do ripening processes and use gases and preservatives – it’s just nuts!” she said.
The negatives can go on and on.
“Get it fresh picked. The farmers’ markets are a beautiful thing. They pick the stuff that day, show up at the market and you eat it all week long. It’s going to be fresher and taste better because it’s picked ripe and fresh and all of the nutrition has been allowed to develop,” she said.
“It’s a total win-win situation across the board,” she continued, “It supports the local farmers and these are the hardest working folks I’ve met.”
Support Local Food
Costello encourages people to shop at the local farmers markets, particularly The Countryside Conservancy which she considers to be the best market in the area.
Normally in Cuyahoga Valley National Park, its setting changes for the summer months. Starting on May 15th and through October it will be at Howe Meadow on Riverview Road from 9 a.m. until noon. About 50 local farmers and producers will be there.
“There are guys who grow all their own berries and make their own jam, it’s the coolest thing,” she said, “I always pray for good weather for our farmers,” she said of her local heroes.
For more information on Ms. Julies Kitchen call 330.819.3834 or visit at 1809 S. Main St. They are open 10 a.m-6 p.m. M-F, and 1-5 p.m. Sat! You can also visit the Countryside Conservatory’s website at http://www.cvcountryside.org to find out more.