With a COVID-19 opening, Kristina’s Kitchen in Millville offers healthy and delicious takeout dishes from breakfast to baked goods.
In February 2020, about “two weeks before masks,” Kristina Malone was getting set to open Kristina’s Kitchen on a tranquil stretch of road in Millville. As it happens, Malone’s health-inspired takeout spot seemed tailor-made for the shelter-in-place era. Today, Kristina’s Kitchen is the Best New Restaurant, Downstate.
What were the range of emotions and steps you took in those early, crazy, confusing, scary couple of months of COVID-19?
I was distracted by the details of opening a new restaurant, getting all of the employees in line, getting all the right products, making sure the menu was good, getting our word out there. I honestly didn’t have time to be scared about COVID. Because we opened with a strictly grab-and-go and takeout concept, we were not affected at all. In fact, I believe it gave us an advantage. It was hard because I saw friends of mine who own restaurants had to close their doors and put their chairs up. I cried with some of my friends, but we were very, very lucky.
What you offer is not what the mind conjures up as traditional, classic takeout like pizza, wings and cheesesteaks.
That’s how we developed the menu. I was like, “Man, where can you get, like, a good burrito? Or a vegan burger that you can just sit outside and eat?” Bowls are a really big thing right now, salads and bowls, and so I knew that was a good one to stick with. A lot of places offer the acai bowls, whereas we take our smoothies and just made them a little thicker and added some granola and fruit, and those are very, very popular. It’s just different than your traditional acai bowl. So again, I was just looking for something a little bit different and a way for people to really enjoy some things that are easy, healthy, but yet you can get a bacon, egg, and cheese on a bagel, or a scrapple sandwich or BLT or something. It’s all about variety, I think, and about balance.
What are some of your COVID-era lessons that could help other restaurateurs?
Don’t give up. There were a lot of times where I got very stressed and frustrated over just little things, somebody making a negative comment, or if I had to say no to somebody because I didn’t have time. That kind of stuff hurts you, and then you think, “Maybe I shouldn’t be doing this.” Just follow your passions, follow your heart, know that there’s a lot of support and love out there, especially from the community, and just keep going, just keep pushing forward. Don’t give up and just really stick to the goals and the reason why you did it, the reason why you decided to go into something like this—you’re nurturing people. Someone told me once that they could feel the love through our food. That like made me well up a little bit, because…it’s a burrito! Or, “I could feel the love in your chicken salad.” That hit me pretty good.