Alumnus bases Honeygrow restaurant on local ingredients

Justin Rosenberg has found success serving locally grown ingredients in customizable, health-conscious dishes.

Justin Rosenberg stands in front of his store on 16th and Sansom streets. | ABI REIMOLD / TTN
Justin Rosenberg stands in front of his store on 16th and Sansom streets. | ABI REIMOLD / TTN

Most restaurants tout their low prices or calorie counts to draw in eaters, but most will never tell what they’re actually serving. That’s not the case at Honeygrow in Center City, where you’ll find a list of ingredients, and where they’re grown on a chalkboard behind the counter.

Opened in July 2012 at 16th and Sansom streets, Honeygrow is far from the typical restaurant. For starters, there’s not a traditional cashier but, instead, a touch screen to order.

Customers are given the option of choosing one of many menu items or creating a concoction of their own out of Honeygrow’s seemingly endless list of ingredients. It’s the ingredients themselves, however, that make this restaurant truly stand out, as founder Justin Rosenberg is committed to serving locally grown produce.

“We take pride in that,” Rosenberg said.

From apples grown in Lansdale to mushrooms grown in Kennett Square, Honeygrow stays true to its mission of serving fresh, local ingredients.

Rosenberg came up with the idea for Honeygrow in 2009, the same year he graduated from Temple. He left a job doing asset management at a Philadelphia-based real estate investment trust with the dream of starting a restaurant modeled after his own healthy eating habits, he said.

“This is the way I typically eat,” Rosenberg said. “I shop at Whole Foods. I enjoy getting a high-quality product, and I wanted to serve that same product, but in a more creative and different way.”

A customizable stir-fry is one of the restauraunt’s most popular dishes, using fresh and local vegetables and specially made noodles. Touch screens allow diners to order add-ins. | ABI REIMOLD / TTN
A customizable stir-fry is one of the restauraunt’s most popular dishes, using fresh and local vegetables and specially made noodles. Touch screens allow diners to order add-ins. | ABI REIMOLD / TTN

He credits his experience in the corporate world with giving him invaluable knowledge he used to start his own business, though he attributes the bulk of his success to his ability to deal with adversity.

“I know a lot of good people with good ideas who after four or five months of meeting resistance from people, they just throw the towel in,” Rosenberg said. “I was working in a cubicle, I had just gotten my MBA from Temple, and I wanted to do something more with it.”

Rosenberg continued by describing the struggle he faced in securing the funds necessary to get Honeygrow off the ground.

“I went to 94 people looking for capital. The 94th said, ‘Yeah, let’s do it’ while the other 93 said, ‘Get lost,’ more or less,” Rosenberg said.  “You’ve just got to be able to deal with it if you really want to be able to do something you’re passionate about.”

He also spoke about the difficulty of finding the right staff and menu for his restaurant, saying he faced many issues as most businesses do in the early stages.

“We had a lot of challenges at the beginning,” Rosenberg said. “The food wasn’t right, the wrong team was here and our foundation was very shaky. But as time went on, we got the right people in, I got a firm grasp of what was going on and it has been great.”

Honeygrow’s menu seems to have a little something for every taste. The stir-fry is an update on the traditional dish, with several different flavors, spices and proteins to choose from. There’s also the option to substitute rice for Honeygrow’s signature house-made egg white noodles, though Rosenberg would advise against it.

“I would recommend the freshly made egg white noodles in anything,” Rosenberg said. “They’re actually custom-made for us.”

[blockquote who=”Justin Rosenberg” what=”founder”]We’re massively exceeding expectations…Community feedback has been phenomenal.[/blockquote]

The restaurant’s salads offer even more selection. From arugula to spinach, avocados and walnuts, a wide array of ingredients are available at Honeygrow. The Simone salad, a new take on the classic Caesar, features shaved asiago cheese in place of the traditional parmesan, while the Persampiere is an arugula-based mix with fresh mozzarella, grape tomatoes and tender pieces of Panko-crusted white meat chicken.

For those with a sweet tooth, there’s Honeygrow’s Honeybar, a build-your-own style version of the standard fruit salad drizzled with your choice of three locally made honeys. Gigantic, juicy berries and perfectly ripened bananas might sound appetizing enough, but it’s only the beginning. Choose from toppings such as Greek yogurt, granola or coconut flakes, and top it all off with some house made whipped-cream for a satisfying treat that’s sure to bring less guilt than the typical dessert. Honeygrow also offers smoothies made from locally grown produce. There’s the strawberry-banana-honey, the tropical and refreshing mango-ginger-mint-pineapple or, as with everything else at Honeygrow, there’s always the option of creating your own.

Honeygrow opened its second location in Bala Cynwyd, Pa., two months ago, and the response has taken Rosenberg by surprise, he said.

“We’re massively exceeding expectations there, I was actually kind of surprised to see the response. Community feedback has been phenomenal,” he said.

Though he admits to being excited by the success of his first two locations, Rosenberg said he is focusing on stabilizing what he already has before making any plans for further expansion.

“We are planning for stuff, we are looking at stuff, but this year we’re kind of just focused on our two units and having a good time with it,” Rosenberg said.

Kevin Harkins can be reached at

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