Naomi Homison saw opportunity for real growth for her business when Pittsburgh Juice Company needed more space beyond its Lawrenceville location next to her brother’s yoga studio.
She bought the former 31st Street Pub at 3101 Penn Ave., a building with “good bones,” and asked other Pittsburgh food makers to become partners in a new venture, Heirloom Superfood Market. When renovations are complete, the market will open in late spring or early summer.
“What Heirloom has become is a collective of small businesses working together under one roof,” says Homison. “When we opened Pittsburgh Juice Company four years ago, one of the main things we wanted to do was make organic produce more accessible in this region. That is a pretty lofty goal. We found it’s not available; it’s not cheap.”
By placing orders together, her company and Pure Grub, Fickle Fox Fermented Foods and Frontier Cultures will lower their prices and be able to offer “amazing, hard to find ingredients” that include superfoods such as chia, flaxseed, hemp seeds and nutritional yeast.
“We’ll be selling in bulk produce and superfoods,” says Homison. “We’re looking at local brands and meeting with businesses that only sold at farmer’s markets or didn’t have a commercial kitchen they could work out of. If we are all working together, ordering together, we’re driving our costs down. And we’ve invited businesses into our kitchen, to use in off-hours.”
To introduce Heirloom to the community, the partner businesses have planned a series of events in the months leading up to its opening, which they’ll publicize on Facebook and Instagram. The first event, in December, was a holiday retreat offering acupuncture and didgeridoo sound therapy. “It’s not just about food. It’s about overall wellness,” Heirloom says in a January 2 post on Facebook.
“We have other events (planned) because of this community of naturopathic healers we’re working with,” Homison says.
She’ll keep the juice company’s retail location at 3418 Penn Ave. “It’s in a good thruway, with a super strong community because of the yoga school right beside it,” she says. “And that area is changing every day, with all the new buildings. But the 34th Street location is so small; our production requirements were way over exceeding the space needed for a commissary kitchen.”
At the former two-story pub at the base of the 31st St. Bridge, she and friends have been pulling off layers of old paneling, one room at a time. Their focus now is to remodel the downstairs bar area, which will become the store. There’s a kitchen downstairs in the back and lots of storage space.
With recent emphasis on plant-based diets and whole foods, it’s a good time to open a store offering natural foods and super foods, says Homison — even with big players in the market such as Whole Foods, East End Co-Op and Trader Joe’s. Sure, you can order coconut butter online, but some people “are conscientious enough that they don’t really want to be ordering, with all that packaging and shipping, just so you can get a thing of coconut butter.”
Heirloom, she predicts, will fulfill a need. “This area, the Strip District and Lawrenceville/Polish Hill, has been dubbed a food desert and it’s a very real problem. There are no grocery stores, let alone a place to find the real specialty stuff. And we’re going to have options, things that aren’t so scary for people who are afraid of healthy stuff.”
Homison didn’t initially pursue a career in food. She grew up in Mars, in a family of vegetarians, so she always tended to choose healthy, wholesome, organic foods. But at Tulane University, she pursued architecture, earning a bachelor’s and then a master’s degree. When she graduated in 2009, however, it was “a bad time for architecture,” she says, so she joined the Peace Corps.
“I ended up in Peru for three years — it was a huge learning experience,” she says. “When I came back to Pittsburgh to see my family, my brother was finishing the yoga studio in the building where the juice company is. I kind of fell in love with the energy in Pittsburgh and wanted to be a part of it. It’s definitely a different world than it was around Pittsburgh when I was growing up.”
Her brother Zeb is her business partner and his Yoga Factory Pittsburgh provided the momentum for Homison to open the company offering raw, cold-pressed juices. “From there, we found so many more like-minded people,” she says.
Watch for a kickstarter campaign launching soon.