When Marwa Halbach, our NJMOMprenuer of the week, was young, she knew she wanted to own a restaurant someday. But she put that on hold and chose a professional path in media until her brother came to her with an offer: Open a restaurant that would feature organic, wholesome foods in an environment where everything from the upcycled furniture to handmade pottery is locally sourced. Believing this was meant to be, Marwa said yes to her brother and goodbye to the corporate world for good. Today, she’s the co-owner of Local Urban Kitchen in Point Pleasant Beach and it’s become the go-to spot for all things delicious, featuring organic, homemade everything—even the condiments. We chatted with Marwa (who is opening a new Wall location this summer) about how she wants to set an example of hard work for her daughter, how the restaurant quickly adapted amid the COVID-19 pandemic and the local places down the shore that’s she been supporting during the quarantine.
featured image via Katheryn Singer
What inspired you to open a restaurant and when did you decide to turn it into a business?
I always saw opening a restaurant in my future but worked at a media firm after I graduated from college. During this time, my brother, Maged came to me with the idea to start a restaurant. He had chef and restaurant experience and wanted to offer something different than the typical places. I wasn’t sure I wanted to leave my job but decided this was a sign from the universe telling me I was meant to do this. So, I went full force into creating Local Urban Kitchen with my brother and the rest of our team. My idea with Local Urban was to offer the community a place to enjoy a meal with their families while feeling good about the quality of the food and to give lots of options. So, if one person is vegan, another gluten-free, and someone else wants a stack of pancakes—they are all able to enjoy a meal out together without compromising.
Tell us about Local Urban Kitchen—what type of food, drinks, and vibe does the restaurant have? You also collaborate with many different local businesses, who do you work with and how does it enhance the experience at your restaurant?
We are primarily an organic breakfast and lunch spot that offers specialty coffees, juices, and smoothies with a Mediterranean feel. We do our best to keep our ingredients fresh and local, teaming up with companies like Harvest Drop which connects chefs to local farms and butchers like The Arctic Butcher who provides our community with high quality grass-fed and organic meats. Our coffees and teas are provided by Booskerdoo and Asbury Park Roastery and our baked goods are from Sunflour Baking and Jersey bakes. Our vibe is welcoming—we like that we are family-friendly and always looking to keep the feeling in our restaurant fresh. We are excited when we can reopen and show everyone the look of our new Wall location.
Local Urban Kitchen takes some extra steps when preparing their food such as soaking beans, serving your own kombucha on tap, and making your own soups and smoothies from scratch. What other things do you do to enhance the quality of your food and what makes it unique?
We really take the time to stay educated on how to prepare and serve our food in its most nutritious form. Almost everything on our menu is homemade with better quality ingredients than what you buy pre-made—our veggie burgers, black bean burgers, crab cakes, and even our mayo, ketchup, and jam are just a few examples. Our granola, kale chips, granola bars, and seasoning herbs are all made in a dehydrator to keep a higher nutritional value. We make our own bone broth with organic pasture-raised chicken bones and grass-fed bones as well as whole vegetables. Our smoothies and juices have fresh organic ingredients and real whole fruits and vegetables. We offer organic almond milk, organic soy milk, organic dairy milk, and organic and raw coconut milk for our coffee drink and smoothies. If we can make it ourselves, we do, and we make sure to use the highest quality ingredients to do so. We aim to feed the community the way we would feed our families.
So many businesses have had to make changes and pivot their livelihood during this pandemic. What changes has Local Urban Kitchen made?
The most important thing to do during this pandemic is to adapt and evolve. The difficult part for us was the very short window we had to come up with a plan and implement it. While sanitation and cleanliness have always been a top priority, we are taking every extra step to ensure we are serving our patrons in a safe environment. We have limited our number of staff working and make sure they are executing all the safety procedures. We offer contactless delivery and curbside pickup of our menu and added provisions from our purveyors to make it a one-stop-shopping experience. As limitations begin to lift, we plan on keeping a high level of safety precautions.
As a mom, what do you hope to teach your daughter about being a businesswoman?
I want her to grow up understanding that working hard isn’t always about the reward, but about the mission. Owning a business has been one of the most difficult journeys I have ever been on, but it has also been the best learning experience. Before having my daughter, my business was my baby, I gave it every part of me and now I continue to do so for my daughter. I also want to make sure she understands hard work matters. Owning a business is not about being a boss—it’s about being in a position to educate your staff and team on how to serve your community in the best way. Of course, there will be really hard days, but those hard days are part of a bigger picture—when you get the chance to take a moment and proudly look back at what you built, it makes it all worth it.
How do you balance being a mother and running a restaurant? What parenting and business adjustments have you had to make since quarantine?
It has been an adjustment for sure—I’ve always had this constant sense of urgency when it came to the business, but now I have this little human that requires so much of my attention. Before the pandemic, I had a nice system where I was able to run home every few hours and check-in and feed her since I live two minutes away. That is one perk of owning a business and I am really grateful for that. During the pandemic, however, we are limiting staff so on the days I do work, I work the front alone and can’t leave until the day is over. That’s where pumping is tricky, but luckily my sister is kind enough to come in for a few minutes and take over while I pump. During work, I take all the necessary precautions to keep our customers and myself safe, but the hardest part is coming home from a long day just wanting to hold my baby, but having to make sure I shower before I go near her.
What businesses in New Jersey did you support before the quarantine and which ones are you supporting now?
There’s a great community built within the small businesses around Point Pleasant. I support Point Lobster, Deena’s, The Arctic Butcher, MacGregor Training & Fitness Center, Blue Sushi, Thai Jasmine To Go, Sugar Bake Shop & Gourmet Foods, Rosie’s Pizza, Salon Cartarae, Blazing Visuals, Rella Woodworks, Purple Iris Flower Shop, and VIP Party Rentals.
What advice do you have for any mompreneurs starting out?
Keep pushing through—if you don’t see the results you want right away don’t get discouraged. I believe if you stay true to why you started your business and never let yourself get stale, your business will keep evolving and only get better.