Brighter Day Natural Foods pulled up the shade on its remodeled kitchen and deli section earlier this month, and the refrigerated shelves are once again filled with Savannah's favorite sustainably-sourced snacks and entrées to the relief of its loyal customers.
But there's no going back to business as usual. The remodel marks several significant updates to the Brighter Day space, including a thoughtfully-curated cheese section, kombucha on tap from Asheville's Buchi and a hand-hewn walk-up window on the Bull Street Side. (The window is currently operating on Saturdays during the Forsyth Farmers Market and is expected to be open full-time by January.)
It also brings a cornucopia of healthy new offerings pouring forth from the kitchen, which staff members will tell you is downright palatial compared to their previous digs.
"We were in a cave for so long!" laughs deli manager Marilyn Fishel, who stood shoulder to shoulder in the formerly dark, cramped space with her staff for nine years as they chopped cilantro and pushed beets through the juicer.
Now Fishel and her team of talented cooks have room to move gracefully around each other under the high ceiling that beams with LED bulbs and is supplemented with natural sunlight. A new six-burner Radiance gas stove sits regally against one wall, and carefully-stacked tins of turmeric, cacao and other spices await attention on an industrial-sized island in the middle.
Understanding the importance of keeping the chef happy, Brighter Day owners Janie and Peter Brodhead brought in Fishel to consult with contractor Sam Carroll on the redesign — and didn't bat an eye when she chose bright blue flooring.
"It looks like the ocean! I love it," says Fishel as she scoots by with a large pot.
In addition to making the preparation of deli favorites a lot easier, the space has also inspired new recipes.
"Every day we have a different vegetarian dish, a meat dish and soup," lists Fishel as she ticks off the revolving menu items on her hand.
"We're also doing lots of salads, gluten-free items and more raw dishes — a lot people have been experimenting with raw foods lately."
Observing the increase in Savannah's health consciousness, Peter has also introduced herbal elixirs, a line of health tonics based on the principles of Chinese medicine.
Sourced from the pristine mountains of rural China and formulated by master herbalist Ron Teeguarden, Dragon Herbs Elixirs contain adaptagens, a class of herbs that help balance the energetic systems of Shen, Qi and Jing. The formulas are designed to build the immune system, help handle stress and boost energy levels, including sexual performance. Similarly to acupuncture, they work to align the body's natural well-bring rather than treat specific ailments.
"These things are like tuning forks," explains Peter. "They're not necessarily for every day. You do it when you feel your need it."
In addition to adaptagens like ginseng and eleuthro, the elixirs are also powered by a wild array of traditional Chinese medicinal ingredients like reishi mushrooms, goji berries, powdered pearls and even deer antlers (don't worry, animal lovers — it's just the tips, sustainably harvested from young bucks in New Zealand.)
Peter, who has studied herbal medicine for almost four decades, first encountered Teeguarden's herbal concoctions at a trade show in the 1970s and was jubilant to discover recently that he could order them from the herbalist's popular shop in Beverly Hills, CA. He touts Dragon Herbs' 8 Immortals blend as "the finest and most potent anti-aging, immune-strengthening product available."
"The first time I had a shot of it, I felt like I'd had an acupuncture treatment," he recalls. "It was a 'wow wow wow' moment."
An "all-around general health tonic," 8 Immortals is available at the deli along with other formulas like Gecko Rock Climber, which enhances aerobic lung capacity for athletes, and Diamond Mind, comprised of focus-inducing ingredients like the memory-enhancing ginkgo biloba leaf.
"I'm really excited about that one. I think it's going to be a huge hit with students," says Peter.
Though the herbs are distilled in liquor, the 1-ounce shots are classified as non-alcoholic. The elixirs range from $2-$6.50 and are made with 30-40 drops of the herbs of choice, a dose of antioxidant Spring Dragon Tea and topped with an effervescent splash of San Pellegrino sparkling water.
Always the experimenter, Peter has developed his own super combos: Clear Mind combines Diamond Mind with Purple Reishi (also known as the "yoga shot"), and Tri Athlete Stamina mixes Gecko Rock Climber, Super Yang Jing and Chinese Mountain Ant (yes, actual mountain ants — reportedly excellent for boosting energy.)
"Now, some of these do not taste good," warns Peter, who advises the squeamish to add a few drops of LoHan fruit extract to sweeten up the elixirs. "But their effects are really tremendous."
He acknowledges that while the bigger-and-better deli is already an enormous hit, it might take a bit of time for the herbal shots to catch on. But after 35 years of relatively little change at the friendly health food store on the south end of Forsyth Park, there seemed no better time like the present to bring in new products and ideas.
"We needed to come up with a whole new dynamic for the changing marketplace," affirms Peter, referring to the opening of corporate health food titan Whole Foods earlier this fall. "And I think it's really going to work."
He grins, holding up a shot glass of the 22 Reishi elixir. "Hold on to your seat belt!"