Ingredients for Sustainability: Java Burrito Company cooks up an urban aesthetic
Author: Kitty Bartell | Photographer: Photography by Anne
Success hinges on the ingredients. Any intrepid traveler, entrepreneur, or chef will confirm that a trip without a map, a business without a plan, or a soufflé without an egg just doesn’t come out all that well.
The cool kids at Java Burrito Company in The Village at Wexford on Hilton Head Island know just how essential the right ingredients are to their booming business. Owners Michael Fekete and Fredrika Liene Hakansson arrived in the Lowcountry with inspiration and ideas sufficient to see them successfully through the first anniversary of their Mexican grill and specialty coffee café, and far beyond, where the ingredients and the customers drive everything they do.
The couple met as students at the International Junior Golf Academy on the island and reconnected when their work took them both to Florida. “I was in Miami for about eight years—a more urban, fast-paced, big city life,” Hakansson said. Moving back to Hilton Head represented a coming home, of sorts, where they knew the pace would be a welcome change, and where they saw a niche in the restaurant landscape that they were ready to fill. “The quality of life here is wonderful,” she said. “I think that we can relate that to the quality of food we serve.”
The ingredients at JBC follow some rather non-negotiable guidelines, the first of which is evident on a wall-size chalkboard greeting customers at the front door. The names of the local farmers, farms, and specialty shops listed on the board are where the restaurant’s organic and pesticide-free ingredients are sourced. “The vast majority of everything comes from local farmers markets from Bluffton to Columbia. All of our meats are sourced in South Carolina; humanely raised, fee range, grass fed, pasture raised, no antibiotics, no hormones. It’s the best you can buy,” Fekete said. “Everything about Java Burrito is about community and sustainability.”
Cage-free raised chickens provide the organic eggs anchoring the breakfast a la cart ingredients. “The eggs are made to order,” Hakansson said, “and the breakfast potatoes are soooo good. The all-natural bacon is so good, guests want it on their lunch and dinner burritos, as well.” In addition to the usual fresh ingredients, JBC brings in the Island Bagel Company’s best for the growing fans of their early day offerings.
Locally sourced seafood is also making big waves. “It looks like it’s marinating in butter,” Fekete said. However, the fish is actually tossed in olive oil, thyme, pepper, and salt, followed by a pan sear, then hangs out in a marinade of fresh-squeezed orange juice, fresh garlic, thyme, and oregano. Customer creativity is encouraged here. Whether breakfast, lunch, or dinner, the choice of a burrito, a bowl, tacos, or a salad, and the chicken, steak, pork, and seafood may be accompanied by any mix of just the right ingredients: cilantro lime rice, beans, grilled veggies, fresh salsas, sour cream, cheese, lettuce, and guacamole.
“The chalkboard is no longer big enough to list all the farms and sources,” added Hakansson, who also helps manage the Bluffton Farmers Market. “I have a personal connection with all the farmers and vendors there. We try to pull as much as we can from there—that’s direct.” The only major out-of-the-region sourcing the menu requires is for avocados and limes, for which guests are eternally grateful, because magic is made with these two ingredients in the form of JBC’s hand-crafted guacamole—delish is an understatement.
Corners are never cut when it comes to JBC’s farm-to-table ingredients. Evidenced by the wooden crate of fresh corn on the cob being shucked by a team member in the prep area of the restaurant’s open kitchen: whole peppers, onions, tomatoes, avocados, limes, oranges… sliced, diced, squeezed, cooked, and served, “The open kitchen is really important to us. We want everyone to know what’s going on, see the preparation, see the ingredients, and feel good about what they’re eating,” Hakansson said.
“Everything you see on the line we prepped that day,” Fekete said. “It’s a constant cycle of prepping and prepping and prepping from scratch—whole ingredients. You’re getting that fast-casual feel, but you are getting it fresh.”
Fredrika liene and michael fekete at Java Burrito Co. in the Village at Wexford
JBC’s melting pot sort of mood and menu, is bringing the South American-Cuban coffee culture to the Lowcountry. “The Columbian coffee, the Cuban coffee—it’s pretty much the South American influence of drinking coffee with everything that we wanted to bring in, along with having a coffee bar that uses organic milk, no high fructose corn syrup, and offers soy and almond milk,” Hakansson said. The beans are sourced from Savannah Coffee Roasters, established in 1909 and known for their bean’s smooth notes. JBC takes this prudently selected ingredient to another level. Their first, and still favored coffee drink is the Mexican Mocha, a combination of honey, nutmeg, cinnamon, dark chocolate, steamed milk, and espresso, served hot or cold.
JBC’s beverage creativity continues outside the coffee bar, as well. In addition to Champagne, wine, beer, liquor, and soft beverages, the fresh margaritas have really taken off, Fekete said. “It’s not a mixture; it’s from fresh limes that we just squeezed today, tequila, triple sec, shake that guy up and BAM!” Gracias, Java Burrito Company!
JBC’s décor and mode of operation mirrors its approach to food. Hakansson and Fekete have created an inviting, urban aesthetic, assimilating seamlessly with the area’s essential island time; all focused on running green. The restaurant’s interior utilizes recycled materials with LED lighting throughout. Recycled aluminum foil and compostable to-go ware are requisite, along with providing their dispensable coffee grounds to the camellia garden at Honey Horn. Experience Green, a local non-profit committed to the what, how, why, and when of sustainability on Hilton Head Island and greater Beaufort County, have identified JBC as an example of an eco-friendly business to be followed.
JBC also offers catering for breakfast, lunch, dinner, and beyond, with any combination of its fresh menu available to go.
Building community is evident in every decision made by these restauranteurs. Community-sized tables encourage everything from meetings to celebrations in their space. “If you come in here for lunch, you’ll see everyone from the painters down the street, to the bankers, to the yoga people, to the high school kids out on summer vacations, to the tourists. It’s awesome to see people coming together, enjoying the food and drink, talking and looking at each other face-to-face,” Hakansson said. Indoor and laid-back patio seating under shady Live Oaks is available with live entertainment often on the itinerary. JBC also offers catering for breakfast, lunch, dinner, and beyond, with any combination of its fresh menu available to go, along with the option to fax in orders that will be ready for pick-up.
Incorporating creative endeavors other than JBC’s own culinary pursuits is also translating into a special relationship with the Savannah College of Art and Design. “One of our local regulars is a professor of illustration at SCAD and came to us with an idea,” Hakansson said. SCAD students have created several art pieces with a fresh food-sustainability theme to be installed under the JBC’s glass-topped tables. The long-term hope is that future classes will want to provide a kind of rotating gallery right in the restaurant. “The artwork will reference the artist’s name and their personal website so that our customers can go look at their complete portfolio.”
When Fekete and Hakansson aren’t tending to JBC, they do a little fishing, work on the renovation of their island home, and take their dog Boo to the beach. The ingredients in their food, in their restaurant, in their community, and in their lives are blending quite well into a rather accomplished dish… all on island time.
Please visit javaburritoco.com for more information, stop by at The Village at Wexford, J6, Hilton Head Island, or call (843) 842-JAVA.