Woman behind 118 Degrees is back


Last October, Jenny Ross sent an announcement to the people on her restaurant’s email list: After eight years, 118 Degrees would close in Costa Mesa. The chef, who specializes in vegan raw food, was set to open a new restaurant in Tarzana, and she hadn’t planned a next step in Orange County.

Her longtime customers, though, promptly gave her suggestions.

“As soon as I closed the doors in Costa Mesa, I probably got 300 emails,” Ross said. “We sent out the message that we were going to be doing that, making that change, and people said, ‘You know what? We need this food.’”

Some, Ross recalled, even asked her to prepare food at their homes. By the time fall was over, the resident of Orange had plunged back into the O.C. food scene — albeit on a smaller scale, at least architecturally.


Be Well Kitchen, which started in November and will have its grand opening Jan. 4, joins 16 other compact shops and eateries at the 4th Street Market, an initiative that launched in February to bring a varied mix to Santa Ana’s increasingly eclectic downtown. The Chase family, which owns most of the properties in the four-square-block district south of Fifth Street and east of Bush Street, rebranded it as the East End in 2011 and set about attracting a clientele more diverse than the area’s traditional Latino base.

With the art-house Frida Cinema and revitalized Yost Theater nearby, the 4th Street Market offers the mall equivalent of a fancy restaurant row: tiny outlets packed in one after another, with chairs situated outside in a general eating area. With just a few steps, visitors can down a cup at Portola Coffee Lab, shop at the Honor Roll artisan food market, try Latin-Asian cuisine at Dos Chinos, and finish with a craft ice cream sandwich at Chunk-N-Chip.

When Ross inquired about a spot of her own at the 4th Street Market, it turned out to be serendipitous timing. The market had set aside a space for a confectionary kitchen, but the arrangement fell through, according to project manager Sheila Anderzunas.

“It was just kind of a perfect storm with Jenny needing a smaller space for her production and not requiring any cooking equipment based on her cuisine,” Anderzunas said. “It just worked out for the both of us.”

In her narrow space next to, of all things, a butchery, Ross stocks a pair of dehydrator machines along with micrograins, spice jars, sweeteners and other raw ingredients. Her books, “Raw Basics” and “The Art of Raw Living Food,” lean against the window glass.

The kitchen provides meal plans, personal chef services, classes and food orders through websites such as Restaurants on the Run. After the grand opening, it will also serve meals on-site from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Mondays through Saturdays.


Its varied menu includes Oyster Mushroom Tacos, BBQ Cauliflower and Red Pepper Kelp Noodles.

Be Well Kitchen may contribute to the 4th Street Market’s mix, but does raw food appeal to a wide crowd? A spokeswoman for the National Restaurant Assn. said she had no statistics on the popularity of raw cuisine, although the group’s list of trends for 2016 does include several items — chef-driven fast-casual concepts, natural ingredients and minimally processed food — that perfectly describe Be Well Kitchen’s approach.

The item on the trend list that least describes Ross’ endeavor, ironically, is the title: “What’s Hot.”

118 Degrees, which opened in 2007 at The Camp alternative shopping center in Costa Mesa, stayed true to its name by not heating food above 118 degrees Fahrenheit. Be Well Kitchen mostly follows that rule, save for an occasional offering such as steamed quinoa.

Some staples from 118 Degrees, such as living lasagna and butternut ravioli, appear on the new restaurant’s menu as well. Ross has also launched a boxed-food program that allows customers to savor her cuisine at home — with offerings ranging from a single-day portion to a week-long supply.

Unlike 118 Degrees, though, the new restaurant offers entirely organic and seasonal food, a policy that Ross said she originally hoped to follow at her previous location.


“At 118, we were mostly organic,” she said. “We opened as all organic, and then we kind of got caught in that [mindset of] ‘I want this today, whether or not it’s organic.’ Sometimes, you can’t always get an organic mango.”

For more information about Be Well Kitchen, call (657) 333-6880 or check out