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Stir-Fry Spot Honeygrow Plans Major D.C. Area Expansion

The Philadelphia-based brand envisions 10 local outposts by 2019

Honeygrow CEO Justin Rosenberg.
Photo by Tierney Plumb / Eater DC
Tierney Plumb is the editor of Eater DC, covering all things food and drink around the nation's capital.

Honeygrow CEO Justin Rosenberg tells Eater he plans to open eight new stir-fry eateries across the area in the new two years, a growth spurt that will plant more of his quick-service restaurants here than in the company’s hometown of Philadelphia.

Honeygrow has two existing locations in Chinatown and Pentagon City. Rosenberg says he is currently negotiating leases throughout D.C., Maryland, and Virginia. His sights are set on Navy Yard, downtown, Silver Spring, Bethesda, and Reston, among others; the raft of openings would likely extend from next year into 2019.

There are currently seven locations within Philly, with another in the works in another part of Pennsylvania.

The touch screen panels posted in each 2,500-square-foot store allow customers to personalize the company’s signature salads and stir-fries, so Rosenberg wants to target locations with big lunchtime crowds. Customers can choose from proteins like chicken, roast pork, beef, shrimp, and roasted tofu, as well as sauces like sour cherry BBQ, red coconut curry, and more. Each location also has a signature "honeybar" featuring honey- or maple syrup-topped fruit along with various toppings.

Rosenberg, who ditched a career in real estate and finance for the hospitality world, says he thought up Honeygrow during his vegan days.

“Fast-casual concepts haven’t done a good job on noodles,” he says.

Honeygrow’s got the resources to increase its local presence five-fold, having just closed a $20 million round of fundraising last fall (bringing the total amount Honeygrow has collected to $52 million). Its 19th location opens this week, in Chicago’s West Loop. Rosenberg also plans to scatter pared-down versions of Honeygrow across Manhattan, dubbed Minigrow, to act as a test kitchen of sorts (think: zucchini noodles).

“We have all these ideas and the chance to have a second opportunity for a creative outlet on cool things,” he says.

Rosenberg’s vision for the five-year-old company includes:

  • Shrinking Honeygrow: In dense Manhattan, Rosenberg says he found a way to bypass overcrowding issues. Instead of the typical 89 ingredients each Honeygrow offers, the new offshoot called Minigrow will have just 35 for making noodle and salad bowls, alleviating the need for staff and equipment space. The first could land at 40th Street in Midtown, with more in the works for the Manahattan-only model.
  • New packaging: Rosenberg says he was so obsessed with finding the right shape to house the stir fries, he drove to the box factory in Pennsylvania and worked on seven iterations before landing on the right one. He’s now settled on a bowl shape that’s easier to handle (the feedback was the Chinese food box shape made it tough to mix ingredients). “I will miss it,” he says.
  • The CEO’s go-to order at the moment: He says he has to travel to D.C. or Baltimore to find his favorite these days; the Chesapeake Crab stir-fry features egg white noodles, Old Bay tomato broth, blue crab, grape tomatoes, bell peppers, red onions, scallions, and parsley. Other regional bowls include a roast pork in Philly, and a lobster-based variety in Boston.
  • Personalized cityscapes: Rosenberg says his team does a photo shoot of sites in each city the restaurant moves into: Those shots are then displayed on the touch screens before customers start their orders.
  • By the numbers: Some 70 percent of its business is in stir-fry, and lunch-dinner sales figures are split evenly 50-50 (which is “rare” for a fast-casual restaurant, he says). Each store employs 30 to 50 people.
  • Keeping good company: Rosenberg says he’s connected with the same tahini vendor that James Beard Award-winning chef Michael Solomonov uses to supply his burgeoning chain, Dizengoff.

Honeygrow isn’t the only Philadelphia-based brand with designs on D.C.; plant-based V Street and Wiz Kid could take up residence in the Atlas District before the end of the year.