Kardia Cafe opened four years ago with the goal to serve seasonal Mediterranean-influenced dishes in a fast-casual setting.
“[The Mediterranean diet] was a natural fit, being in a heart hospital, to have something that was very healthy and a good role model for what the hospital itself represented,” says Kardia Chef Manager James Castellow.
Kardia’s menu has evolved but has stayed true to its roots. Popular menu items include roasted vegetable salads, including one made with butternut squash, and a grilled salmon plate. The cafe is also known for its in-house beverage program. It doesn’t serve traditional sodas, instead offering such options as lavender honey black tea and rosemary-infused blood orange juice. One of its most popular is the Kardia Kolada, made with pineapple juice and coconut milk.
About two years ago, the Kardia team began developing a grab-and-go initiative due to a renovation of the hospital’s main cafeteria. “We moved all of that cooking over to Kardia,” says Castellow. “So, for about six months, we closed down and became basically a prep space for the hospital.”
The team purchased extra equipment to allow guests to access the cafe’s fare during that time. “We had like three coolers and a cash register, basically, and we were able to serve Kardia-style food in a grab-and-go setting, and that was very successful,” says Castellow.
The temporary setup ended up being great preparation for the impending pandemic. Once COVID-19 hit, the Kardia team was able to quickly transition back to its to-go format. “We were able to instantly overnight, like a flip of a switch, turn back into what we had already developed,” says Castellow. “We didn't miss a beat. It was like we had already done all the homework for it.”
The grab-and-go menu consists of several wraps, bento boxes made with hummus, crackers, crudites and cheese, and seasonal salads with ingredients such as pecans, apples and dried cranberries. “The salads are huge,” says Castellow. “We sell probably twice as many salads as we sell anything else.”