by: Ingrid Feeney
photography by: Nicole Harnishfeger
WE ALL KNOW THOSE COLD, DAMP, NANTUCKET WINTER MORNINGS, when the frigid wind blowing in from the North Atlantic chills your very marrow, and the gray sky stretching endlessly above affords little consolation. It is precisely on those mornings that we seek particular creature comforts to remind us of our own humanity: creature comforts like piping-hot cappuccinos, gooey egg sandwiches, freshly-baked muffins and big, fat breakfast burritos.
It was on one of those very mornings in early 2010 when Jenny Bence wanted a breakfast burrito. She pulled up to an island eatery (which will remain unnamed), only to be greeted by a sign that said “Closed on Sundays. Open Monday through Saturday 11 a.m.-3 p.m.”
Peeved, she drove away, thinking “Who gets a breakfast burrito at 11 a.m.?” It was then that, continuing her fruitless quest for a decent breakfast on the go, she drove past 5 West Creek Road and saw the fading “For Rent” sign on the building that had formerly housed Blue Water Bakery and before that the Nantucket Bagel Company. Three days later, she signed a lease with no other plan in mind than “breakfast burrito” and “organic and natural.”
She gutted the building when she took over and redesigned it completely, in a hip and modern way, creating a comfortable and energetic vibe befitting The Green. In the background, rumbling juicers and blenders churn out delicious and nourishing elixirs for an endless stream of islanders, each coming through the door with a smile and a friendly salutation. Upbeat tunes on the radio and the news on TV in the adjoining sitting area complete the bright and casual feeling of the space.
The Green opened its doors May 15, 2010. Now, almost two years later, Bence’s commitment to high-quality, natural and organic foods, along with her unique creative culinary flair, has established The Green as an island mainstay among both year-round residents and seasonal visitors.
On any given morning between 7 and 8 a.m., moms who’ve just dropped their kids off at school and are grabbing a smoothie with wheat- grass and a gluten-free zucchini muffin are lined up with attorneys getting an herbal tea and a croissant and carpenters fueling up with coffee and an oversized breakfast sandwich. There’s a wide array of baked goods early in the morning, but choice diminishes as the day progresses. The Green bakes enough for that day and no more in order to keep flavors fresh.
For those with food allergies, there’s a fair amount of items that are gluten-free, as Bence embraces a healthier style of cooking. Vegan brownies she had out as samples one day were fudgy and rich and absolutely delicious. Who would have known that no butter or eggs were used in their creation? The Green is also a favorite of those who love fresh, blended juices.
“You go to New York or California and everywhere you look there are smoothies, wheatgrass, raw and sprouted foods. I felt like Nantucket needed a place that was going with that sort of green movement. I feel like this country is heading in that direction,” Bence said. “(It) is evolving in the direction that people want to choose the whole wheat over the plain wrap, grilled as opposed to fried. I feel like that’s important that we’re becoming more health-conscious, and we need to because it’s really scary what you put in your body if you’re not conscious. If it is full of preservatives and pesticides it can make you sick.”
But meat-and-potatoes diehards need not dismay. There is something at The Green for everyone. Bence and her hip, cheerful staff serve up everything from bacon, egg and cheese breakfast sandwiches on New York “flagels” (flat bagels) and enormous beef burritos, to vegan wraps filled with succulent, seasoned vegetables and brown rice.
“I am not extremely strict with myself. I am more strict here for what I present to the public. Overall I think it is really important to eat fresh and eat locally whenever possible,” Bence said of her own philosophy on nutrition. “Grow your own vegetables if you can and use raw fruits and vegetables. If you make it from scratch and make it fresh every day, then you are eating good food. If you buy stuff that doesn’t have chemicals and pesticides you are going to be OK.”
Whenever possible, Bence sources local ingredients, and has five different island providers for eggs. When demand exceeds the production capacity of local farmers, she uses Pete and Gerry’s Organic Eggs. Pumpkin Pond Farm now grows all of the wheatgrass served at The Green.
“They have such a beautiful facility out there with these amazing greenhouses. We started experimenting with seeds and trays and growth height and types of wheat-berry seeds and now they supply all the wheatgrass and they do a really beautiful job,” Bence said of the local partnership. Organic Valley and Stonyfield Farm supply most of the dairy, and the coffee is Wicked Joe’s Organic Fair Trade. Produce comes from such sources as Lady Moon Organic Farms, Pacific Organic Produce and Jonathan’s Organics.
At The Green, all take-out containers and flatware down to the straws, napkins, lids and cups, are compostable. “You can run the iced-beverage stuff under hot water and it will disintegrate in front of you,” Bence said.
Bence is an inspired presence in the kitchen. As such, the wraps are new and different every day.
“It’s easy to find inspiration between magazines, cookbooks, the Internet and then what you like and what you know sells,” she said. “When I first started I thought that I could come up with a dozen wraps that I really love, but everyone is going to get bored with those dozen wraps. And they might not be the flavors that everyone else likes so I just think it’s more fun to say ‘hey, let’s do this today.’ Yesterday for example we were like ‘I’m in the mood for polenta so we’re making a polenta wrap’ – and it was delicious.”
Bence remains grateful to the friends and family who helped her through the various stages of getting the business on its feet.
“One of the benefits of being in a small community is that everyone will come together and help you. If you are an honest and hardworking person, your family and friends and everyone in the community will come together and make it happen. You don’t have to have the perfect business plan and money from an institution. You can make anything happen without doing it the traditional way,” she said.