Chefs Benjamin Hamrah and Amanda Elliot started Beet Box two years ago after an idea that sprouted from their other business Peachtree Catering. Beet Box's purpose is to present meals in a different way while utilizing local businesses and local farmers. As the pop-up restaurant started to grow, it was time to transform it into a real space. Hamrah and Elliot sat down and talked about their aspirations for the brick-and-mortar.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
In general, what is Beet Box?
Hamrah: Beet Box is a fast casual Middle Eastern food at its core with a significant emphasis on local agriculture and the seasonality, but I think the purpose of it is to develop a following of people who will enjoy good food and expects a standard of quality. So then, we can play around with whatever we want to do that doesn't follow that Middle Eastern style.
And so the secondary kind of premise to Beet Box is Sunday brunches. Not only do we think that that brunch is a niche in Columbia that that needs to be filled more, but we'd like to do it a little bit differently. Sunday brunch is from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. It's a three course, fixed-price meal that nobody will know until the day of. So again, we're looking forward trying to get a following of people that are really just relying on us to give them a quality presentation and quality experience. I think when you get yourself involved with something like that, then people can either pick and choose you based on how they're feeling on a certain day, as opposed to I know I want good food today and I know Beet Box is going to give it to us.
Elliot: The common thing I've seen with restaurants that focus on seasonality is there still has to be a core element that people who aren't as adventurous feel comfortable ordering. And that's really where those four like core staple things that we have are coming from, which are hummus, shawarma, falafel and kebab.
What's the inspiration for the Middle Eastern cuisine?
Hamrah: My mentor is my father, but most importantly he's from Iran. So I've grown up loving, enjoying and learning how to cook Middle Eastern food. And that's one of the many reasons that (Elliot) and I hit it off when we first started working together because she spent time in Lebanon and developed a big love for that style of food. It's just such a broad encompassing style of food because everything Middle Eastern and Mediterranean, that region of food, is built around seasonality. Everything is about what do we have available and now we make the food, as opposed to other regions that go about it backwards, this is what we want to make and now we have to source all those ingredients.
On the beverage aspect, we are also serving wine and beer. Our focus on beverages is to continue with everything else we're doing with using local producers and high quality ingredients. We're working with Shortwave Coffee to help us develop our coffee program, so we'll do espresso drinks. We'll do in-house sodas, so we're not going to serve Coke or anything like that, we're making all of our own sodas. It's all scratch made, so it's not a bunch of heavy corn syrup and sugars. Even though it's fast casual, we definitely think that there's a draw where people can come sit and stay and have a date.
Are you planning any collaborations with your neighbor Logboat?
Hamrah: We're definitely collaborating with Logboat on a number of things. Not only are we close, but we highly respect what they do and the business model that they have. We're looking at a program that we're calling 'Boat Boxes'. People will be able to come in because they have such a awesome facility over there and they don't serve food. So people be able to come over here, they'll pay a deposit and they'll get food for two that's packed up in tiffin boxes —the Indian style lunch boxes are stackable and reusable. They'll get a Turkish blankets and Turkish linen napkins. And they'll get to take all that stuff and go over there and and just set up on the on the yard and enjoy our food.
How did you guys come up with the idea of Beet Box as a second business after Peachtree Catering?
Hamrah: Everything we do is non-traditional and kind of just whatever we're most excited about. I always wanted to provide a benefit to the community but also something that helps push forward the message of food and food service. To speak separately of my experience with (Elliot), she is one of those minds that you don't just find, but is always trying new and fun things and how to put her spin on food.
Elliot: I think we saw there's a void in the community. We have ideas of like having a DJ and we want to create a space that is reflective of our personalities as well; we want a place that feels more authentic to us. Catering to the client is important but also creating a space that we feel reflects us and we think that people will gravitate towards that.
Hamrah: Columbia is a small town, but also a college town. We have this huge influx of people coming from big cities and are used to certain experiences. So there's a definite demand for different, but I don't think we've seen a lot of people in the last few years that are trying to push food forward and move us closer to the diversity you see in bigger cities. That is something we want to be a part of.
You mentioned having a DJ, what can customers expect when they walk into the new store?
Elliot: I really want like as a part of the Sunday brunches and during summertime, to have a DJ set at certain points. I just think it would be a lot of fun having a live DJ.
Hamrah: Beet Box as a name was absolutely spurred from our love for hip-hop. So when people come in, no matter if we have live music or not, they can expect loud music heavily on hip-hop. But as far as what people can expect, we have the four staples for sure. We also have a great breakfast pastries program going on right now. A lot of other specials that we will play around with. We're hoping that people can stay tuned to our social media platforms so they can keep up on what specials that we are serving. That's a big part of how we can work hand in hand with our clientele to keep them informed and apprised of what's going on.
What's the most exciting part about all of this for you?
Elliot: The food has been really exciting for me. And also the neon signs.
Hamrah: Just having this concept that we've been talking about for a while and getting the chance to design all aspects of and eventually showing it to people. Also from the Peachtree side, working with local vendors has also been fun, because as we continue to do that and provide more and more demand for them, they get to diversify everything they're growing.
Elliot: With catering, we just don't know what types of event we're going to have so we can't dictate like we'll take this the amount of product. So I'm also excited the next growing season because now we can really go through these catalogs with the farmers and be like, we would really like to see this product, and it will be a completely new product for the market.
Final question, when will the space be open?
Ben: *laughs and looks at the contractor* When will it be open?
Soon. That's what we've been saying. By the end of this year, I would say at most.