By Christiana Roussel
Photos by Grant Gaar, Betsy Parker
There is a new kid on the block in Crestline, Real & Rosemary. Owners Jennifer and Nate Carlson have recently opened this third location of their fast-casual concept, at the corner of Church Street and Dexter Avenue. If you’ve visited their Homewood or Summit locations, you know that the menu is teeming with fresh, approachable, delicious options that are bound to land with even the pickiest eaters. Sitting down with the husband-wife restaurateurs, we were eager to learn more about all they have planned here.
Welcome to Mountain Brook! What does it mean to you two to have Real & Rosemary in this location, in Mountain Brook, and in Crestline, specifically?
Jennifer Carlson: At the heart of Real & Rosemary, we see ourselves as a community brand and a neighborhood brand. We love being in the neighborhood. The Mountain Brook community has already been so great. We have customers who say, “thank you for bringing fresh food today. Thank you for having takeout.” That really surprised me at first because that’s just what we do! That’s what I would want. That’s how we want to treat our customers. So that’s just part of our normal course of business. To have it recognized is a very positive experience. These customers bring energy to the business, as well as the things they’re doing, whether they’re shopping in the area or traveling through or they live around the corner and they’re out for a walk or whatever. I love seeing neighbors run into one another here – they hug, they ask about each other’s kids, they sit down together to just catch up. I love that about Crestline.
Tell us about the changes you’ve made to the space.
JC: Well, the kitchen was in great shape. The restaurant here before was just so wonderful. Our challenge was really just in updating the front of the house, making it look and feel really, really nice. We want Real & Rosemary to be a polished fast-casual space.
There is a definite Real & Rosemary vibe here – that feels very intentional.
JC: We want everything – from the décor to the food – to be clean and crisp. We want Real & Rosemary to feel like an extension of your home. If you were going to invite friends over to your home but didn’t want to have to cook and clean all day, we’re the perfect alternative. We want the time spent here to be easy, comfortable, happy, carefree. You can focus on the experience of being with people and not have to worry about clean up!
Many of our readers have dined at your other two locations. To the new diners, what kind of food can they expect to find on the Real & Rosemary menu?
JC: We try to get really high-quality ingredients that are really fresh and then treat them well. We treat them with herbs and spices, more than maybe traditional cooking. We want to give things a lot of flavor and lift. When we first opened, we worked with a chef to develop this menu, recreating dishes that our mothers and grandmothers made and how they poured into me. A lot of our recipes are either things we grew up eating with our families or maybe are things that were kind of inspired by our travels – things we might like to serve at home.
It does feel very homey and welcoming here – not always an easy feat for a restaurant!
JC: We feel like our staff has a lot to do with that, too. Nate and I set the tone, but just as we want the restaurant to feel like an extension of your home, we want our staff to feel like an extended family. The pandemic was really hard on this industry, and we definitely felt that here in Birmingham. Honestly, we have maintained a really wonderful staff. We’re selective in who we bring on board and only hire those we really want to spend time with.
Have you and Nate always been involved in the restaurant industry?
JC: I was actually a finance major. Then I got my MBA in real estate. I started working for Zoe’s Kitchen (under John Cassimus) when they had 10 units (locations). I was in charge of development through about unit number 60 when the company was bought out by a private equity partner. Zoe’s Kitchen was just such a great Birmingham brand and a real success story. That was when I fell in love with this business. Nate is a natural operator and handles much of the day-to-day business. He’s actually getting his MB at [the] University of Virginia right now and is class president. In addition to that, Nate is a certified sommelier -that might surprise some people- and has had a lot of fun overseeing our wine program at Real & Rosemary.
How many fast-casual restaurants have a sommelier on board? Nate, tell us about your approach to creating this wine list.
Nate Carlson: We work with a lot of growers and winemakers from regions that are not as necessarily established or sought after (yet). We’ll have wines from Spain and France but maybe from providers that are not widely known yet – maybe a rosè from the South of France but from an up-and-coming vineyard. We have to be at a price point that makes sense for our menu. I think as we get our feet wet, we’ll take some liberties and make some changes the customers will appreciate – something they will enjoy drinking and at the right price. We hope to add craft cocktails to the menu soon, too.
What does your time away from the restaurants look like?
JC: Well, life is pretty busy! We have three kids [who are ages 10, 7 and 3], which keep us going. If we are going out to eat, we like places like Automatic Seafood (for celebrating anniversaries and special events) or Rodney Scott’s BBQ or Johnny’s Restaurant in Homewood. I grew up in Clanton and Nate is from Meridian, Mississippi, so we are still enjoying exploring all that Birmingham has to offer, like taking our kids to Birmingham Barons games and things like that. For now, even though we live in Homewood, we’re just excited to have Real & Rosemary be able to call this corner of Crestline, home.