By Amy Holditch
Photos by Lindsey Culver
Greenhouse is the brain child of service industry veterans Bray and Marie Claire Britton. With a bright and airy vibe and walls covered in art, the restaurant has salads, soups, smoothies, sandwiches and even Ridiculous cookies. It is nothing if not fast casual, with counter service to keep the flow moving along smoothly. The concept has fared well in Edgewood Station since opening in 2019 and seems to have the community “feelin’ good all the time,” which just so happens to be the couple’s goal for their guests through their menu and service. Here’s what Mary Claire had to say about life running a restaurant in a pandemic with three young kids.
When we last sat down with you, you and Bray were on the precipice of opening Greenhouse. How has your concept evolved since then?
We have expanded our menu to include more hot food than we originally had in mind, which has been so fun. We have definitely learned a lot, experimented a lot and streamlined things. There are still many kinks we need to work out, and there is always room for improvement. For Edgewood Station, we were able to sort of take stock of the neighborhood, see what was missing/what it needed and try to fill that gap. We felt like this Homewood location was perfect for our healthy-ish, family-friendly concept. Bray and I wrote the menu together. Some of the names, like the “Freek Salad” came about because I couldn’t find a “G” for the pegboard! We try to let a solid sense of humor guide our lives.
COVID arrived on the scene less than a year after you opened. Was Greenhouse ready?
Our biggest challenge has been running a restaurant during a global pandemic while maintaining our high standards of food and service, and we did it. Our goal has always been to provide healthy and delicious food for families and people on the go, so we already had that going for us. We never had to shut down because of COVID. We immediately closed our dining room and made the shift to full on carryout. Right before COVID hit, we started an account with UberEats, which really carried us over the hump while we re-sorted our online ordering and carryout systems. We were also already geared toward carryout, so that was not a huge shift for us. We did, however, have to re-think childcare, since it virtually ceased to exist. I quickly figured out how to do a lot of my work from home/the car (parked in various lots around town while toting kids to and fro). Luckily, Bray is a great manager of chaos, and he was able to step into the places where I had to step back. My kids spent a lot of time in my office at the restaurant, and a lot of time running restaurant errands with me. Again: my kids have the ability to make ANYTHING fun, and they do!
My family is WEIRD in the best possible way. We have three little boys: 7, 6 and 2, and they are pure magic. They have a magnificent spirit of adventure, are extremely content and don’t sweat the small stuff. They are relentlessly flexible, joyful and the most fun people on the planet.
Since being in quarantine, I’ve become more mindful with my time and energy, and believe there is a lot to be said for slowing down, taking it all in and being grateful. You are in the fast casual world. What are some things you learned about your business or personal life from lockdown would you like to hold on to?
We learned a lot. In some ways, we worked harder. I was sort of forced to step back. It allowed me to not feel so guilty about being here everyday and really enjoy being with my kids. Now Bray is here seven days a week and thrives in the chaos. He is going to get it done, no matter what. Honestly, I think the pandemic shift has been more difficult for him, but I feel like he would say it was more difficult for me and I am so grateful for that dynamic. We both see the struggles that the other is going through and that is what really makes it work.
Any plans to open up additional store fronts?
We do have plans for a second (and third) Greenhouse! We are currently looking at a few different spaces around town.
As we all know, recycling in Birmingham is a challenge and one that certainly impacts all of us. How is green is Greenhouse and in what ways do you serve your community?
We are as green as we can be and do our best to waste nothing. As any restaurant knows, this can be very difficult, so we make it a priority to minimize waste and to donate anything extra to our local food banks. All of our carryout containers are biodegradable, and we do recycle.
It can’t be easy for you and Bray to find balance with so many balls in the air at once. How do you do it all and still find time for yourself?
HahahahahahahahahAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA. I think that balance is definitely something we strive for and try to offer our guests through our menu. As far as life goes, though, Bray and I understand that we are in a phase of life right now where “me time” isn’t an actuality. I think the best thing we have done is to lower those expectations. When you don’t expect to have a spare moment, and you suddenly have one, what a magical gift that can be!
What do your weekends look like?
Bray works on Saturdays and Sundays. The kids and I usually spend as much time outside as we can, while I do 15 loads of laundry (heh). We often have a soccer game on Saturday morning. The boys are eager to slow down on the weekends, so we often try to do as little as possible. I go in on Sunday afternoons to make the levain (a sourdough bread starter) real quick so that I can spend most of Monday pushing through our big baking projects. The restaurant closes early (3 p.m.) on Sundays, so Bray can usually get home for some good family time before we zoom off into another week.
Dishing with Mary Claire
Favorite GH dish: I look forward to the BLT every summer. Gosh, it is just so perfect.
Most popular dish: The Greenhouse Salad is the most popular by far.
Last meal she’d eat: CRABCAKES.
Favorite cuisine: I don’t know if I could pick a favorite! I love everything: Greek, Persian, French, Japanese. I just love to try new things.
The story behind the smoothies: We were so loopy by the end of putting the menu together that we were just like, the blue one? Yeah, let’s name him the Blue Guy. The green one? Green Boi. Mr. Pink? Sure, write it down.