Pandemic is just another hurdle for immigrant restaurant owners in Roswell

Huh! Natural and Real Food in Roswell is run by husband and wife Sebastian Gracey and Cristina Kisner. The couple and their five daughters immigrated to the U.S. last October. They opened the bakery-cafe in December. LIGAYA FIGUERAS / LIGAYA.FIGUERAS@AJC.COM
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Huh! Natural and Real Food in Roswell is run by husband and wife Sebastian Gracey and Cristina Kisner. The couple and their five daughters immigrated to the U.S. last October. They opened the bakery-cafe in December. LIGAYA FIGUERAS / LIGAYA.FIGUERAS@AJC.COM

Credit: The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Credit: The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Huh! Natural & Real Food offers gluten-free and dairy-free foods.

Adjusting to life in a new country is challenging even in the best of circumstances. Imagine doing it during a global pandemic.

Last fall, husband and wife Sebastian Gracey and Cristina Kisner, along with their five daughters (ranging in age from 5 to 15), immigrated to the U.S. from their native Peru.

Gracey closed down the furniture factory he had operated in Lima for more than 20 years when business stalled due to the country’s poor economy and political turmoil. The stress of trying to keep the company afloat had led to a heart attack, he said, so he decided he had “to let it go.”

He declared bankruptcy.

Hand-helds at Huh! include, from left, chicken salad sandwiches, savory empanadas and barbecue jackfruit sandwiches. LIGAYA FIGUERAS / LIGAYA.FIGUERAS@AJC.COM
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Hand-helds at Huh! include, from left, chicken salad sandwiches, savory empanadas and barbecue jackfruit sandwiches. LIGAYA FIGUERAS / LIGAYA.FIGUERAS@AJC.COM

Food was their solution — and not for the first time. Some years earlier, two of their daughters had experienced health problems, one with an autoimmune disease, the other with celiac disease. Their mother researched how to use food as medicine. Both daughters now manage their medical conditions largely via diet, and the family maintains a gluten-free lifestyle. Kisner even wrote a Spanish cookbook called “Mi Cocina Saludable,” which translates to “My Healthy Kitchen.”

The family settled in Roswell to be near Gracey’s brother. A shop on busy Alpharetta Street, near the city’s historic downtown, was for sale. Gracey and Kisner bought Gluten Free Cutie in late 2018 and turned it into Huh! Natural and Real Food.

Huh! Natural and Real Food offers baked goods such as biscotti (left) and desserts like slices of a chocolate cake roll with a cream filling flavored by a Peruvian fruit known as lucuma. LIGAYA FIGUERAS/LIGAYA.FIGUERAS@AJC.COM
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Huh! Natural and Real Food offers baked goods such as biscotti (left) and desserts like slices of a chocolate cake roll with a cream filling flavored by a Peruvian fruit known as lucuma. LIGAYA FIGUERAS/LIGAYA.FIGUERAS@AJC.COM

Every item on the menu at this bakery-cafe is gluten-free, dairy-free and made with organic ingredients. Dishes are familiar to American palates — pizza, waffles, pot pies, sandwiches — yet made to maximize health benefits. Cheeses are all vegan. Flours, made from powerhouse grains like quinoa and amaranth, are ground in-house. Nut milks are made from scratch.

When it comes to the restaurant’s name, Huh! is pronounced “who,” and references a Viking war chant. The couple chose the name as a rallying cry for people who want to improve their own health through food.

They’ve kept the eatery open throughout the pandemic, with just the two of them making pot pies, sandwiches, empanadas and vegan pizzas for takeout and delivery. They recently opened the back patio for on-premises dining.

Huh! offers gluten-free, individual-sized pizzas. The crust is a flavorful blend of quinoa, amaranth and rice flours, as well as flax seed and sweet potatoes. LIGAYA FIGUERAS / LIGAYA.FIGUERAS@AJC.COM
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Huh! offers gluten-free, individual-sized pizzas. The crust is a flavorful blend of quinoa, amaranth and rice flours, as well as flax seed and sweet potatoes. LIGAYA FIGUERAS / LIGAYA.FIGUERAS@AJC.COM

Gracey and Kisner remain optimistic about the future. “We are just a new business in a bad time for businesses,” Gracey said. “After all the things that we have done as a family, I am sure we are going to make it. It might just take some time.”

Is there a restaurant you want to see featured? Send your suggestions to ligaya.figueras@ajc.com.

<<READ: More Atlanta Orders In

HUH! NATURAL AND REAL FOOD

Menu: health-minded breakfast foods, breads, salads, sandwiches, empanadas, pizzas, smoothies and hot drinks

What's new: frozen items, including waffles and pot pies, that can be reheated at home.

Alcohol: no

What I ordered: beef empanada, mushroom pot pie, barbecue jackfruit sandwich, individual cheese pizza, slice of chocolate cake roll with lucuma cream, golden milk. The empanada was terrific — the flaky crust held a generous, meaty filling — and made me wish Huh! would consider diving deeper into Peruvian cuisine. The vegan pizza offered a crisp, thin crust made from a flavorful blend of quinoa, amaranth and rice flours as well as flax seed and sweet potatoes. All pizzas have cheese; you can choose your toppings. I opted for a satisfying combination of mushrooms, red peppers and olives. Order the barbecue jackfruit sandwich just to taste the possibilities of this tropical fruit. The pot pie was amply filled with shrooms, but the filling was a bit wet. Lucuma is a Peruvian fruit that tastes like a blend of sweet potato and butterscotch. Gracey also threw in some of his wife's cranberry-nut biscotti. I'd never guess that these crunchy coffee dunkers were gluten-free. Everything was tidily packaged and traveled well. I enjoyed the golden milk on the drive home; this anti-inflammatory warm beverage is made from house-made almond milk, coconut oil, fresh ginger, turmeric, black pepper, cinnamon and honey. I was given verbal instructions (oven temperature, cooking time) for successfully reheating the frozen dishes.

Service options: order online; contact-free curbside pickup available; delivery through Uber Eats, DoorDash and Grubhub; outdoor patio open for dining, with restrictions.

Safety protocols: adheres to COVID-19 safety protocols. Any time a patron enters the store, surfaces are recleaned. Patrons are not allowed in the dining room.

Address, phone: 1066 Alpharetta St., Roswell, 404-528-0444

Hours: 11 a.m.-6 p.m. Tuesdays-Saturdays

Website: huhfoodsroswell.smartonlineorder.com