Once a small nonprofit that sold cold-pressed juices from a roving cart on city streets, Wilmington Green Box now has its own kitchen — and restaurant — right on the corner of 4th and Market Streets.
Green Box Kitchen opened on Friday for breakfast and lunch and will meet the growing demand for plant-based foods and fresh juices for people on the go. The small 10-seat restaurant focuses on take-out, but the attractive space and large windows overlooking Market Street make it an inviting spot to relax.
The fast-casual vegan eatery and juice bar serves hand-crafted salads, grain bowls, smoothies, açaí bowls, juices, and other fresh foods that are always one hundred percent plant-based. Their breakfast menu also includes Belgian waffles, oatmeal, avocado toast and a variety of bagels.
Green Box was initially developed to bring nutrient-rich drinks to city youth whose neighborhoods infrequently offer access to healthy eating options and many families lack transportation to larger grocery store chains.
Their juices quickly developed a loyal downtown following of both adults and kids.
“Green Box Kitchen has really been a passion project for all of us involved. We have poured our souls into this concept. This is unlike any other dining concept I’ve been involved with,” said co-owner Angela Wagner.
The cool part of the Green Box business model is training and putting teens to work. Since its founding as a non-profit in 2016, Green Box has hired dozens of older teens at $10 an hour to make the cold-pressed juices and help sell them at outdoor locations downtown in the summer months, including their open ‘green space’ kiosk on Market Street and office and community courtyards.
But the seasonal business model posed challenges to the student employees as well as lovers of Green Box juices who hoped to buy more of them year round.
Now the students come in after school and cold press the juices right at the restaurant, which has its own commissary kitchen.
“That was the whole purpose of this — not only to provide healthy food options but also to provide employment year-round,” said Wagner, who has spent 15 years in the food industry, most recently with Big Fish Grill. She partnered with Green Box founders Jason Aviles and John Naughton to open the ‘Kitchen,’ which is an LLC. Wilmington Green Box, which employs the students, continues to operate as a nonprofit.
Green Box recently partnered with Strive: How You Lead Matters, which helped provide job training to the teens this past summer. “The [Green Box] business has been built from the ground up with teens at the center of it, giving them exposure to entrepreneurship as well as access to healthy foods,” said Strive’s Executive Director Andrea Valentine.
Funding from the Department of Labor allowed Strive to provide training around social, emotional and leadership skills combined with efforts by the Dual School, which focused on entrepreneurship and problem-solving.
Green Box Kitchen have 15 teens employed now and hope that number can grow as awareness of the new restaurant expands.
Green Box Kitchen is open Monday through Friday from 7 am to 2 pm. But the owners expect to soon extend their hours to 3 pm. They will also explore opening on weekends some time early next year.
“People came in every day for his juices, and we could ‘t keep them in the store,” said Wagner, who helped create the design for that particular eatery.
Green Box Kitchen has four flavors available all-year-round — Incredible Hulk, Sweet Beats, Sunrise, and Elixir Number 7, and Watermelon Breeze available during the summer season.
Unlike fresh-pressed juices that are made to order, Green Box cold presses their juices ahead of time – either the night before or the morning they are put up for sale. They do not contain preservatives or additives, and as such have a short, three-day shelf life.
“Jason has taken months and months to develop the recipes. He has meticulously has put ingredients together not just for wellness but because they taste so good. And each bottle contains 100% of your daily intake of fruits and vegetables,” said Wagner.
Wagner adds that she has lived in a variety of cities where juice bars are plentiful and that none seem to compare with the taste curated by Aviles.
“We have kids who come in here and rave about his juices, and typically kids are a hard sell when it comes to juices with spinach and kale,” said Wagner. Their menu uses all whole foods, and if a recipe requires a sweetener, they use Agave and nothing artificial.
Aviles adds that it’s the hands-on experience of running a business that’s central to his philosophy of inspiring social change. “Our employed teens are essentially learning transferable skills that will assist them in ultimately making better choices that will help them live a greater quality of life. Because our teens run 100% of the daily operations, they’re leaning the value of teamwork and expanding their awareness of what it takes to generate success on a daily basis. And they’re having a great time doing it!”