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Why Luna’s Living Kitchen is expanding outside of Charlotte

It’s happening. Luna’s Living Kitchen, home of the Rawco Taco Salad and Gateway to Green juice, is expanding. But the raw vegan establishment in South End isn’t opening its doors in another part of Charlotte (sorry, Ballantyne folks) — it’s taking the leap into Raleigh.

“We have been searching in Charlotte for the right location for several years, but have yet to find something that works,” said Stephen Edwards, president of Living Kitchen. “It’s difficult when your first location is sited in a beautiful historic building in the right part of town. It sets a high bar. We are hopeful we will find a location soon, but the good space is tough to find in a strong market like Charlotte.”

Luna’s Living Kitchen is not the first Charlotte-based food establishment to hop straight out of the city’s limits. 5Church and its crispy marinated tofu (heart be still) expanded to Charleston and Atlanta. Orrman’s Cheese Shop extended its reach of artisan cheeses (and cheesy sandwiches) to Raleigh.

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Amelie’s French Bakery (originally in NoDa) and Bad Daddy’s Burger Bar (originally in Dilworth) handled it a little differently, expanding through Charlotte as well as out of the city. Amelie’s expanded through Charlotte and into Rock Hill and Atlanta. Bad Daddy’s made its way through Charlotte — and through North Carolina and Tennessee and even Colorado.

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But Luna’s has its reasons for taking its next steps outside of Charlotte.

“A couple of years ago, we decided if it was this difficult to find good space in Charlotte,” Edwards said, “maybe we should get started in nearby markets, so we would be ready when the time was right. What we found in Raleigh, and the Triangle in general, was a real estate market still in the early stages of development.”

Beyond the inability to find the right fit right now in the Queen City, Edwards said the newest location (set to open later this year) in Raleigh’s Charter Square is the right size with high ceilings and huge floor to ceiling windows that will provide a natural light and a feeling of openness, he added.

Rendering of the new Luna’s Living Kitchen coming to Raleigh Courtesy of Luna’s Living Kitchen/Charlotte ObserverRendering of the new Luna’s Living Kitchen coming to Raleigh Courtesy of Luna’s Living Kitchen/Charlotte Observer

Besides, Luna’s Living Kitchen was always committed to expanding its concept. The goal was to create new opportunities for the restaurant’s team members and to share the food — the ingredients, the preparation process and the presentation — with as many people as possible, Edwards said.

To me, it seems like expansion would dilute the brand. But Edwards said, “We are a long way from that problem but believe strength of purpose and attracting great people with a similar passion for what we do will carry us a long way.”

That “long way” includes continued expansion, likely in Charlotte and the Triangle area.

“Maybe Greenville, S.C.,” Edwards siaid. “That’s about as far as we can see at the moment. We are still a small business and want to remain that way for the time being.”

In that spirit, he tacked on some advice for other small businesses looking to expand: “Make sure you have people who share your vision working alongside you.”

Photo: Katie Toussaint, Luna’s Living Kitchen/Charlotte Observer