After crossing Kejara’s Bridge, the Redheads branch out

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By Stephanie Purifoy

Sun contributor

Sarah Landry Ryder has come a long way from the 25-year-old restaurant owner and waitress she used to be. Her company The Redheads, which she and her sisters started in 2004, has taken off as another Leelanau business looking to make delicious food with local sustainable ingredients. 

In 1997, Ryder and her four other sisters opened a restaurant in Lake Leelanau called Kejara’s Bridge, after an Irish tale of a shipwrecked sailor and his daughter forging a new life dedicated to protecting the earth. Ryder said that the sisters were always conscious about their impact on the environment and wanted to translate this attitude into a sustainable business model.

The Landry family grew up in Leelanau County and Sarah attended Leland Public Schools where she now coaches girls’ middle school basketball. After studying at Aquinas College she returned home and started the restaurant with her sisters. She said the initial plan for the business was to create a cultural center with live music, coffee, and food but soon found that it wasn’t so easy.

The sisters’ major success came when they created a breakfast and lunch menu using local foods. Ryder said their determination to find the best quality products often took them down a harder path. Certain foods go through specific growing seasons which makes it difficult to have a set menu all the time. In the early years, they would find things to supplement holes in their supply.

During this time, Ryder and her sister Christen would gather back in the kitchen and develop their own recipes out of ingredients that met their standards. Initially, they marketed these products under the Kejara’s Bridge logo but then decided to make it a separate entity. The Redheads was officially born in 2004 and Ryder ran both that business and the restaurant at the same time for more than 10 years.

Even as they found success, Ryder said she could feel things changing for her as she and her sisters grew older.

“We learned a lot through trial by error,” Ryder said. “We kind of threw ourselves into the fire. I was able to be successful in the restaurant business for 20 years but it’s a lot of work and it’s a lot of hours, and it’s always on the weekends and I was missing out on things.”

In 2017 the Landry sisters finally walked away from Kejara’s Bridge and began leasing the building to their head chef. Brian Figueroa is now using the space to operate his own restaurant, Fig’s.

Although her family is still involved, Ryder is now the president of the Redheads and has overseen the company’s move from its 500-square-foot workspace in the back of the restaurant to the 1,700-square-foot facility they have now at Cherry Capital Foods near Traverse City. 

“The timing is so great because I’m not 25 anymore and I have kids and this different view of what the bigger picture is,” Ryder said. “And I want to be able to sit back and soak in all of the different things I’ve learned and use that. Now I’m using different skill sets. When I was younger, I just put my nose to the grindstone and worked nonstop. This last year has been a big transition but it’s been a great transition for me personally and for the business.”

The Redheads have a total of 18 products ranging from their most popular hummus dip to their newly developed black bean and veggie burgers. Everything is made from scratch with locally sourced ingredients and all-natural preservatives. Even though incorporating these local organic ingredients has been difficult, Ryder says it’s a big part of the reason why she does it.

“I would rather not do it at all if I chose a different route. I like to talk about this company with the four p’s: ‘People, Planet, Profit, Purpose’. If the purpose isn’t there, then what’s the point?”

The Redheads have found distributors and continue to build a following all over the state

“I think the market is ready for these kinds of products. I feel like we’re getting right in the pocket here and it’s an exciting time for us,” Ryder said.