Given the time of year, you are no doubt trying to fight off a cold of some sort as you read this. If you lead a busy lifestyle, I will give you a pro-tip: Kombucha. Had it not been for this magical brew, I would have been a mess by the time I sat down to interview Devin and Krystal Edwards from Skyebird last Thursday morning. The night prior I had felt that insidious, creeping feeling in the back of my throat that usually signals a hellacious couple of days to follow. Luckily, we had just tapped a keg of Skyebird’s Apple Spice kombucha at Redlight Redlight, where I work. While downing an easy 40 oz (Don’t worry, although it is a fermented tea beverage the alcohol content is negligible and will not intoxicate) I was already preparing my apologies for being a big ball of sick in their gorgeous new space at East End Market. Bounding past luck and exceeding fortune, when I awoke the next morning, it seemed all those probiotic cultures had me feeling pretty awesome. Check this study from science to find out what probiotics can do for the immune system (It was conducted using college students in a dorm, which in terms of germs might as well be a daycare with pizza grease in place of lysol).
Though Devin has been brewing his own kombucha at home for 15 years, it was only in the past two years the Edwards’ sought to bring some of their good habits and hobbies to the general public.
The idea for a retail location serving raw, nutritionally dense fare came in a period of transition for the couple. Both were looking to move on from their respective careers: Krystal, a partner at a local court reporting firm, Devin the VP of Marketing for a telecommunications company in the Caribbean.
Their personal lives had also approached a watershed as healthier lifestyles began to take precedent along with the birth of their newborn daughter. In 2012, Krystal made the switch to raw food and enrolled in a year-long online course of study offered by the Institute for Integrative Nutrition. Devin had a notion that the world had gone too far down the rabbit hole of processed and genetically modified foods. With initial plans to start a juice truck, the couple eventually settled on the idea of a permanent home for their concept as opportunity began to sprout around them.
“We met (East End Market Founder and Owner) John Rife and started talking about the place and it made sense the culture he was trying to build here,” Devin explained. “His food politics and the growing slow food movement meshed with where we were headed and to some degree the way I had been raised.”
At that point, East End Market was still a year away, which gave the Edwards’ time to test the waters and till the land, as it were.
With some success among friends at private dinners, they sought to develop their plan beyond just juice and kombucha. They began expanding the raw-food element of Skyebird after encouragement from Chris Buckley, their new-found chef who now helps run the “experimental kitchen.” Creating different non-cooked treats like kale chips and pineapple jerky would prove a cornerstone for the kind of innovation Krystal and Devin wanted to facilitate for the community.
The Edwards’ then invited Leodavid Martinez to join the ranks as a kombucha brewer.
Following positive responses from test runs at the Audubon Park monday market, the newly formed team began to hammer out a workable plan to make their unique business model thrive. First, they needed to decide what it is they were going to offer. Sitting at the Skyebird bar crafted out of wood reclaimed from the ante-bellum farm of Devin’s Grandmother, Krystal tells me their criteria for the products crossing their counter.
“We just use organic produce; we make our own almond milk and sunflower milk” In addition to being wholly organic and nutritionally dense, most everything will be raw, and Skyebird will be “strictly a vegan restaurant.”
This uncommon foundation is meant to counterbalance Orlando’s surfeit of conventional food options, which the family does not wholly reject. Mrs. Edwards states plainly, “It’s an extreme way to get people thinking about their diet. It’s not intended that you should be here every single day of the week. Even for us, this just balances out what we do the rest of the time.”
Those accustomed to Tropical Smoothie quantities and prices will have to steel themselves for the purchases made at Skyebird and throughout the East End, for that matter. However the Edwards’ – like many of their fellow vendors – are confident that the premium quality and benefits to the body and the environment are more than enough encouragement for local consumers to up the ante.
With respect to sustainability practices, the Skyebird crew is at no loss for words. And through clever repurposing methods they look to avoid the level of profit-margin losses known to cripple fledgling upstarts. A few examples:
the carrot apple ginger juice provides the pulp for carrot cake truffles, and beet pulp with the proper treatment makes a great alternative to red velvet cake. All beverages will be served in mason jars with a discount offered upon return. As a boon to the local farm economy, they are offering on a first-come, first-serve basis, 5-gallon buckets of discarded pulp to be used for rich compost. And most importantly they want to ensure customers get the biggest bang for their buck.
“Serving food that’s nutritionally dense as possible is part of our business model,” reiterates Devin.
Going forward the newly-minted business owners expect to work for a mix of product sourcing they believe in.
“Once we get more into this we will definitely go more local,” ensures Krystal. “And that doesn’t mean they are going to be organic per se. We will know the farmers, we will know their practices.”
While stressing the importance of keeping both food and money local, Devin highlights the formal obstacles facing the smaller farmers with which Skyebird hopes to build a regular commercial relationship. “The fact is you’ve got a lot of local farmers who don’t grow at a scale to afford (organic) certification. To them there is no other way than to grow organic.”
The organic certification process can be very costly, requiring several years of transition. Regular conversation with East End Market vendors and owners will yield this recurring theme: the systemic hurdles facing small businesses in the slow food movement have to do with being financially solvent in a market that in recent decades has overwhelmingly valued the highest quantity for the lowest price.
“There is building an ideal business model and building a sustained business model,” explains Devin, “And just like all the business practices over the past generation have worked towards mass production, processing, fillers, calorie-dense but nutrient-light, we’re trying to build a model that allows us overtime to work that backwards.”
While they are working, the Edwards’ have plenty of cause for inspiration. The name of the restaurant also happens to be the nickname of their daughter, Skye.
“Skyebird has made it personal,” Devin beams, briefly surveying the space. “It took it from being a business to being something that was about raising our daughter in an environment built on the revelations we had.”
Audubon Park can appreciate the active culture of Skyebird Juice Bar and Experimental Kitchen at the newly opened East End Market Tuesday through Sunday.