What started as a simple concept in Nelson and Mary Monteith’s kitchen now has two locations in Austin with (socially distanced) lines stretching out the door. Honest Mary’s, one of our favorite fast and healthy eateries, has quickly become a go-to spot for seasonal grain and veggie bowls.
The husband and wife duo knew they were onto something when they realized that eating healthy and delicious meals away from home felt increasingly difficult, especially when they were on-the-go and didn’t have time to meal prep beforehand. They said:
“At home, eating well was easy. But we grew frustrated by our options when we left our own kitchen. So, we created Honest Mary’s — an alternative to cooking at home that fits our clean lifestyle.”
Especially since the pandemic hit, I personally have felt the struggle of working from home while watching my 11-month old, and I’ve definitely reached for less-than-healthy options to get meals on the table out of sheer convenience. I know I’m not alone, and when one of my gfriends sent me a text one afternoon asking, “How do I make a healthy bowl at home?“, I knew just who to ask.
Scroll on for our interview with the duo behind Honest Mary’s, where we talk everything from how they started their business with virtually no experience to how their diet has changed their health from the inside out. And perhaps most excitingly, they shared the recipe for their signature aloha tuna poké bowl so we can recreate our fave at home! Grab the recipe right here.
How did you two meet? We love a love story.
We like to tell people that we met at a bar down on Rainey Street in 2013. And we probably only like to tell that story because it makes us seem more fun than we really are (now our ideal night is crawling into bed by 9 PM with a book we probably heard about on GoodReads and a cup of Sleepytime Tea!) Our “meet cute” wasn’t love at first sight though. Mary eventually went out on a date with Nelson and then tried to break up with him after the second date. Fortunately, Nelson was one step ahead, putting some sales tactics he was learning at the time to work and keeping her on the line for a few more dates. 13 months later, we were best friends getting married. We’ll be celebrating our 6 year anniversary this week!
How did Honest Mary’s come to be?
Mary: It’s interesting that our personal stories really wove together in a beautiful way that led us to create Honest Mary’s. I had always loved cooking, and the kitchen was a place where I was able to express my creativity fully with few boundaries or limits. When Nelson and I met and got married though, I really had to change the way I had always thought about preparing food in the kitchen. The backstory is that Nelson had battled some significant health issues in college that led him down a path of understanding how food can be used as medicine to the body. His health now is a true testament to the value of eating clean, organically-sourced food and lots of vegetables.
At the time, I remember thinking he surely must be overselling how much food could change your body from the inside out, but out of care for him, I basically threw away everything I once had stocked in my fridge and pantry. It didn’t take long until I, too, saw a tremendous impact in my own life and was hooked.
Nelson: Fast forward a couple of years, I was coming out of business school, determined to put my newly-learned entrepreneurial principles into action. The goal was, of course, to start a business. So, it was a 9-5 sales job by day, and trying to think through businesses to start on nights and weekends. I was really focused on producing a tangible product – something that could be touched, tasted, and easily explained to a customer. The actual idea for Honest Mary’s came to Mary and I in December of 2015. Mary had been reading the news, when she suddenly called me in and asked me to read this article. It was a business article about a healthy fast food restaurant starting in California by some ex-Costco executives. We were immediately enamored by the idea of a healthy fast food restaurant (we couldn’t think of a more relevant need in our own life!), but we also immediately rejected the idea of starting a restaurant. (Everyone knows how stupid it is to start a restaurant, right?) By the time the evening was over though, we’d all but emotionally committed to this idea of starting a restaurant that served healthy grain bowls in a Chipotle-style serving line. Nearly two years later, in October of 2017, we opened the doors of Honest Mary’s. Surprisingly, the core business model was almost exactly what we imagined it would be on that first day.
Starting any business (especially a restaurant!) can be scary. How did you cope with the fear of failure?
The potential of having a positive impact on so many lives was a major part of this decision. At the end of the day, our decision to start a business couldn’t be just about fulfilling some personal desire or making a profit; it had to be about other people. It became very apparent that there was a real opportunity to bless many people’s lives by starting a restaurant that genuinely cared for people, and created a culture that immensely values other people, not just yourself.
We felt like there was real good that could be done in the restaurant industry – by serving our team and our guests with true excellence and care. From the beginning, a very real goal for us with Honest Mary’s was to help create a world that displays the beauty and power of caring for other people.
Many of us are feeling the challenge of work from home life — and making a healthy lunch every day. Give us some tips!
Mary: As a mom, I’m in a phase of my life right now where I’m all about “clean convenience.” I simply don’t always have the time I wish I did to commit to my own health and self-care. For breakfast, more often than not, I’m toasting a piece of grain-free bread in the morning and topping it with things like avocado, sprouts, vegan cream cheese and Everything But the Bagel seasoning. I’m also pairing it with an Oat Milk latte and a huge bowl of fruit topped with cinnamon or tumeric. Other go-to’s for us in the morning are an oatmeal bar, nutrient-dense smoothies and eggs – lots and lots of eggs are consumed at our house!
For lunch, I’m usually throwing a bed of greens into a big bowl and chopping whatever raw veggies I’m needing to use up in my fridge to add to it. I’ll usually top it with tuna or a veggie burger with whatever seeds I have on hand and Nori flakes. In my ideal world, I would make my own dressing or sauce, but I usually save this energy for our anticipated family dinner time.
Dinner is always a toss-up! I’m usually preparing 2-3 veggie-centric sides, a grain, a homemade sauce/dressing and an animal protein. We usually eat lots of fish, lamb, turkey, and chicken, and due to sensitivities don’t eat much in the way of dairy or gluten. Amy Chaplin’s latest cookbook, At Home in the Whole Food Kitchen is like my Bible, and the Instant Pot is one of my dearest friends. I am obviously a big believer in eating close to the source when possible, so I usually draw inspiration from whatever is in season (summer is my favorite!) in the produce section. When studying abroad in Italy, I learned from my house mom that the best meals are usually made when you can frequent the grocery store or farmer’s market and get a true feel for what looks the freshest. Your body’s nutritional needs can also vary day-by-day, so I find it can be helpful to go to the store and follow whatever my body is craving that day. Obviously, (for various reasons) it’s such a privilege to be able do this though, and I think we are seeing this even more now in post-quarantine times.
What are your top tips for staying on track when it comes to healthy eating during the pandemic?
Mary: I honestly don’t do much in the way of meal prepping these days, but I do think it’s always helpful to have a basic protein prepared in the fridge like turkey burgers or lamb meatballs, so that you can heat it up when in a pinch. The same goes for batch cooking a grain or legume at the beginning of the week to be a mainstay in your refrigerator. With those on hand, you can throw them together in a bowl with raw greens, and top with something like spicy sauerkraut and Coconut Aminos for a delicious, quick meal. Snacks are always a big weak spot for me too, so I’m constantly needing to keep things like Epic or GoMacro bars, nuts, and cut fruit around. I’ve also recently discovered SuperFat snack packets, which are delicious.
What items are always in your refrigerator and pantry?
Here are some things that we’ve found to keep in our house for a quick meal or making our favorite bowls:
- Fresh herbs
- Lots of leafy greens
- Siete salsa or Yellowbird sauce
- Almond or Oat milk
- Fish sauce
- Organic Tamari
- Any clean sugar-free dressing (we love Tessamae’s)
- Coco aminos
- Fresh nut butters
- Sauerkraut or pickled/fermented veggies
- Kombucha for while you cook
- High quality oils
- Nut butters
- Nutritional Yeast
- Nori or Dulse Flakes
- Grain-free pasta
- Coconut milk
- Various legumes and grains
- Chili powder
- An Honest Mary’s spice mix (coming soon!)
- Himalayan Pink Salt
- Canned fish (tuna, sardines, salmon)
Do you have a specific formula when it comes to building your own healthy bowls at home?
- Start with a green base (kale, chard, or collard green)
- Add a grain (quinoa or any rice varietal)
- A couple of of veggies (roasted or steamed)
- A topping or two that will add the kind of texture you want
- A delicious sauce.
- We’ll usually add a protein, as well
As far as prep tips go, always have a cooked protein or a cooked grain or bean. And, one of our other biggest tips for getting comfortable in the kitchen is “mise en place”, which is a French culinary phrase which means “putting in place” or “everything in its place”.