In the Maori language, the word ‘kye’ means ‘food’. In Japanese, it means ‘the ocean that nourishes and supports the planet’. In Chinese, it means ‘to open, to expand, or to champion’.
For Jeanne Cheng, Kye is the name of her son and new restaurant. When her son developed food allergies as a toddler, she began to create KyeRitos, which wrap superfood ingredients like fresh vegetables or goji berries in nori, collard greens, or lettuce.
“I was trying to come up with a handheld food like a sandwich that he could eat, made out of real food,” says Jeanne.
Her goal was to become a doctor, but while studying molecular biology and researching cancer in college, she grew interested in preventative medicine. She earned two more degrees: in spiritual psychology and Traditional Chinese Medicine.
“I came to the realization that I’d like to help people help themselves instead of relying on me for their well-being. I started teaching Tai Chi and meditation, emphasizing nutrition to understand how the body functions on different kinds of food and how that can change quality of life,” says Jeanne. “I come from a culture that believes food is medicine; the Chinese culture in general believes the key to longevity and health is through food.”
When Jeanne had Kye, she left work to be a stay-at-home mom.
“I put a lot of my focus and energy into feeding him. He had such high nutritional needs. I wanted his biochemical systems to get what they needed to develop fully. At the same time, food is a major source of enjoyment, and with kids it’s so obvious; they won’t eat anything that doesn’t taste good,” says Jeanne.
When Kye started kindergarten, Jeanne began to search for her next project.
“I had the food idea and thought it would be great for how people eat today. I was actually at a meditation retreat and decided to go for it. I had never been a restaurant owner but I felt like it needed to happen and be in the world. It really serves a need to have healthy, quick, tasty food, and it has a strong spiritual component as well. One of the best ways to make the world a better place is to give everyone the food their body needs,” she says.
She contacted a friend who studied restaurant management at the Cornell School of Hotel Administration, and he connected her with their library. Jeanne began to work on patents and branding, and teamed up with chefs to develop recipes. Her restaurant, Kye’s, opened last fall.
“The restaurant business is no joke; it’s a lot of work, but luckily I love it and enjoy it. I have a lot of ideals and generally have surrounded myself with like-minded people, but now I have to figure out how to make a belief or feeling work in a situation that may not be as supportive. I’ve found it’s okay to redefine things or do something different but at the same time to be aware and listen to feedback. At the end of the day, what’s most important is the people involved,” she says.
Jeanne has been excited to see a wide variety of people enjoy KyeRitos.
“A fear I had going in was that people wouldn’t want to try something new, but I’ve found that people are open to trying new things and they really do care about the quality of their food,” says Jeanne. “Every day I sit here and want to pinch myself. I can’t believe it’s happening, and people are saying the word ‘KyeRito’ when I made it up. I feel like this could be anybody’s story. I want to encourage people, if they have an idea, to go for it and see what happens. I have no idea what will happen with this yet, but hopefully we’ll do well and so far the reception has been great. It could all be done now and I’d be happy that I just did it. I took something out of my mind and made it real.”