Jon-Michael Kerestes says he divides food into two circles: things that are good, healthful and life-giving, and things that are not. So if you're after luscious chocolate treats, why not use only ingredients from the first circle?
That's what Kerestes has been up to for more than a year with Love Street Living Foods, his line of vegan, organic and mostly raw treats. (The "raw" refers to food that's not just uncooked but also minimally processed, so that enzymes in the ingredients remain active and beneficial. Some of his foods use maple syrup, which disqualifies them from being raw.)
Cocoa from Ecuador, agave from Mexico and maca, a high-protein root, from Peru ... Kerestes brings them all together in his facility on the South Side to make gorgeous fudge, chocolate bars, and chocolate and coconut-chocolate spreads. He's wary of revealing the precise location of his workshop for fear customers will show up hoping to make retail purchases, but Love Street products are available at the East End Food Co-Op, Whole Foods and Oh Yeah!, the ice-cream shop in Shadyside. They're also distributed and sold in New York, California and other locations nationwide. Until January, Kerestes made every product by hand and did the shipping himself. But as business has grown, he's had to do some outsourcing -- albeit with individuals whom he carefully selected and personally trained.
Over an energizing snack of tart goldenberries, rich, velvety dried mangoes and Spanish olives -- all current or future Love Street products -- the Pittsburgh native explains how he went from earning a degree at the Air Force Academy to being a one-man movement for delicious foods that also happen to be wildly healthy.
"It was the food that did it," he says. "The body responds to good food." During a stint in Los Angeles, where raw food is more readily available, "I spent a while eating raw and realized how powerful it was."
And it's the food that is his best marketing tool. Kerestes says he's won over cynics at taste tests at the Co-op and the Farmers@Firehouse market in the Strip District. The first merchant to carry his line, a shop in Manhattan, started selling his products wrapped in tinfoil immediately after he brought them in for a taste test.
The name Love Street Living Foods, Kerestes says, came to him while eating fabulous food in Los Angeles prepared by an inspiring chef: "It's kind of Garden of Eden. If you lived on Love Street, this is what the food would taste like."