“Jar Bar Babe” Karen Firsel enjoys being “disruptive.”
When the TV spokesperson and former MSNBC, NBC News, and Oprah producer moved from Chicago to Northbrook 10 years ago with her husband, Adam, she quickly settled into a new suburban routine.
Her kids, Emma, 10, and Eli, 7, loved their weekend meals at local haunts like Portillos, Little Louie’s and Lou Malnati’s, but Firsel missed the healthy dining options she enjoyed while living downtown and traveling to New York and Los Angeles for work.
“I was struck by the void of forward-thinking food and progressive décor,” said Firsel, a self-professed devotee of nutrition and wellness. “As a consumer, I felt we should demand better.”
Determined to shake things up and disrupt what she calls suburban “food complacency,” Firsel took a brave, bold leap last May – snagging a high visibility corner location on Shermer Street in downtown Northbrook to launch her healthy, urban-style eatery, Jar Bar.
“When I get an idea in my head, there’s really no stopping me,” said Firsel.
Open for breakfast and lunch seven days a week, the 30-seat Jar Bar uses clear, recyclable plastic jars to serve its menu of salads, oatmeal, and acai bowls, providing a convenient container for transporting and displaying fresh, “clean,” colorful ingredients.
“Portability is important to me,” said Firsel. “As a working mom, I’m always on the go…eating in the car or standing up.”
The café’s four signature salads are served in 24-ounce jars and priced at $10, including the “Original 5,” a blend of mixed greens, roasted vegetables, asparagus, sun dried tomato pesto and dressed with balsamic vinaigrette. Jar Bar’s “Lights Out,” salad layers mixed greens with black rice, roasted mushrooms, cranberries, edamame, and sweet potatoes, topped with vinaigrette made from coconut aminos.
Jar Bar’s popular breakfast menu features four Egg Bowls, each priced at $6, consisting of a poached egg layered on potato mash topped with a range of ingredients including avocado, tomatillos, and corn salsa.
Customers looking for a quick grab and go can choose one of Jar Bar’s pre-made 16 ounce Overnight Oats for $5, a concoction of oatmeal topped with fresh flavorings that steeps for 24-hours. “The Skinny Elvis,” is a blend of bananas, peanut butter; “Cake for Breakfast,” mixes oatmeal with cashew ricotta, coconut sugar crunch and Jar Bar’s signature granola. The café recently introduced a new menu of seasonal hot foods, including poke bowls and loaded baked potatoes.
In choosing Jar Bar’s menu and design, Firsel’s aim was to create a community-style restaurant while simultaneously breaking away from classic American diner fare.
“We don’t have a fryer,” said Firsel. “There are no hotdogs or hamburgers on the menu, and yet we play to every age group. We have students from Glenbrook North coming in regularly for lunch.”
The café caters to young children with its bento boxes filled with vegetables and hummus and granola and yogurt, and a cleverly deconstructed version of a PB&J sandwich: whole -wheat crackers, sliced apples, granola and fruit compote.
“The vast majority of our menu is gluten-free, even thought we’re not specifically catering to that market,” said Firsel. “99% of our offerings are dairy free, since we use primarily nut milks and cashews in our ingredients.”
And while Jar Bar offers its customers an abundance of healthy options, not everything served in their jars is 100% guilt free. Jar Bar’s signature 8-ounce chocolate and rainbow layered Cake Jars have been a runaway hit with customers of all ages. The café routinely caters corporate lunches, Bar Mitzvahs, weddings and birthday parties.
With years of experience in television, media savvy Firsel knows how to create a social experience around food. The restaurant’s blue banquettes and white high-top tables surround a long, open kitchen where dishes are freshly prepared by staff. A bright white wall adorned with the Jar Bar brand, logo and tag line provides the perfect backdrop for an Instagram-posted selfie. The café sells a selection of t-shirts emblazoned with witty phrases like, “This t-shirt is gluten free,” ‘Cake for Breakfast,” and “Jar-Bar Babe,” alongside bags of kale chips and Voss water.
Firsel says she grew up in a close-knit Jewish home where her mother prepared delicious family meals from the family’s small kitchen in Buffalo Grove.
“Food always equaled thoughtfulness and love for me,” said Firsel. “It’s a feeling I hope we’ve recreated here.”
Jar Bar is located at 1350 Shermer Rd, Northbrook. Call 847-715-9367
or visit www.jarbar.com for more information.