These past couple years, trying to remain connected to the world of food that’s been my passion since childhood, I’ve felt stubbornly healthy—but broken. I still managed to shop in order to feed myself. I went to restaurants when I needed to. But where was the joy? Nothing felt natural anymore. Like many people, I rediscovered daily cooking. Then, I got bored. I started to rely on bread (fresh, when I could find it), cheese (the stinkier the better), organic eggs, and occasional greens plucked from my garden. Lately, I’ve come to find a great deal of pleasure in Julia Kesler Imerman’s new cafe, Daily Chew (2127 Liddell Drive).
I came to it by mistake: I’d wandered off the beaten path of Cheshire Bridge Road looking for crusty sourdough bread made by Sarah Dodge. The peripatetic baker delivers her loaves every Friday to Daily Chew, but I hadn’t done enough research and showed up on the wrong day. As I stood at the outdoor ordering window, trying to decide what to do, a friendly voice said: “You know you can come inside.” And there it was: a small, quiet place with just a barista and a few customers, with one corner devoted to the business of a cafe and another that resembled a living room. There were books to read, fresh pastries to contemplate, espresso to sip. The menu—shakshuka, rotisserie chicken, breakfast bowls—was healthy in a nonthreatening sort of way.
The cafe is an extension of Stop Think Chew, the benevolent food empire Kesler Imerman has been building over the past several years. For me, it’s become a refuge, a calming space addressing my needs for physical and mental nourishment. I had an emotional response to her “brekkie bowls,” for instance, served over a bed of quinoa that’s plump and properly hydrated—a rarity. Kesler Imerman tops each bowl with sliced avocado and a beet-dyed egg with a perfectly gooey yolk, plus feta, radish, green tahini, and hummus. This interplay of sharp, fresh flavors and skillful preparation also characterizes thick pita sandwiches filled with buttery smoked salmon, dill, and preserved lemon. All these superfoods—including chai-flavored chia pudding with coconut milk, almonds, agave, and cranberries—satisfy me the way many in the same virtuous genre do not. Whether I drink a perfect cortado made with Brash coffee beans, or refresh myself with one of the cafe’s creative, seasonally rotating housemade sodas concocted by general manager Kathryn Fitzgerald—like lemonade with lemongrass—my whole body feels the thrill.
At 28 years old, Kesler Imerman is that rare young entrepreneur who has as much common sense as passion. Born Jewish in South Africa and raised in Atlanta, she went to neither culinary school nor business school. After graduating from New York University—she created her own major having to do with entrepreneurship and urban food systems—she worked for Ted Turner’s Captain Planet Foundation, where she focused mainly on school gardens.
Afterward, she moved seamlessly to private chef gigs, small-scale catering, and eventually meal prep and delivery for a health-conscious clientele. The name of the business she started in 2017—Stop Think Chew—said it all. Whether you call it intuitive or mindful eating, Kesler Imerman’s concept of food promotes joyful, healthy eating that doesn’t deny the body what it craves: It’s a philosophy that says it’s okay to eat French fries, South African boerewors (farmers’ sausage, typically flavored with cloves), even a cheeseburger, as long as you know where it comes from and balance it with grains, fresh vegetables, and whole foods of all persuasions.
“Healthy is such a loaded word,” she told me. She may have eaten organic and from-scratch before it was a trend, and made her reputation sneaking vegetables into her menus (rotisserie cabbage, now amended to rotisserie cauliflower). But Kesler Imerman is also a “proper South African,” she said, who eats braai—backyard barbecue—without guilt. Her food makes one full in the holistic sense of the word.
Two reasons to bet on Kesler Imerman’s success: She owns her own building (no dealing with predatory landlords), and she’s created a line of distinctive shelf-stable products (soups, sauces, dressings) that she sells through local groceries and Fresh Harvest, as well as at the cafe. I call her the queen of cauliflower Bolognese, and I am not kidding: That jar of bright red, cumin-scented sauce is as satisfying as anything you’ve ever tasted on pasta. Daily Chew’s simple, cozy dining room belies the enormous production space in the back, where director of operations Layla Walk—Kesler Imerman’s right hand—supervises a small staff prepping and packing a remarkable array of items, including my favorite: a soba noodle bowl with bright green edamame, sliced cabbage, and ginger-sesame dressing. This bigger operation drives the business, allowing the cafe to flourish. Plans for the future include an expansion of the breakfast menu (potato latkes, smoked salmon, steak and eggs) and a larger patio.
There are many ways to interact with Stop Think Chew: stopping by the cafe, ordering online for pickup and delivery, scheduling a catered event or a private dinner. Describing work that allows her to jump wherever she’s needed, nourishing people without punishing them, Kesler Imerman put it to me this way: “I try to make a little dent.”
All bottled up
Stop Think Chew sells prepared and packaged foods in addition to fresh fare, including:
Cauliflower Bolognese, made with San Marzano tomatoes and Calabrian chilis
Overnight oats with almond milk, chia, goji berries, and more
A line of tasty bottled salad dressings
This article appears in our May 2022 issue.