James Brownsmith, a former sous chef at Canlis, oversees culinary development for the Georgetown company. Here’s a recipe for yam and kale wraps that gets close to what Molly’s serves.

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IT SEEMED LIKE it happened overnight, the way Molly’s became ubiquitous. The Georgetown company’s salads and sandwiches filled a notorious weak spot in our food scene — coffee shops and cafeterias that made do with bready croissants and plastic-wrapped paninis.

Now, in place of tired ham sandwiches packaged with mayo, cafe refrigerator cases are as likely to hold black bean wraps augmented with roasted yam and marinated kale. Sandwich favorites include a “free bird” turkey piled on whole-grain bread from a local bakery with spinach and sun-dried tomato spread.

The once-tiny Molly’s company, founded in a rent-by-the-hour commissary kitchen in 2009, now boasts 70 employees in Washington and Oregon. Concentrating on punchy flavors and “green” ingredients, it supplies cafes, health-care facilities and workplaces from Microsoft to Swedish Hospital.

If the lunches seem like what a good home cook might pack for work, there’s a reason. Co-founder Stefan Kalb discovered the secret after the global renewable energy startup he had joined after college flamed out.

“At the time, I was dating a girl named Molly,” he said. “She was bringing salads to (her) work (at Microsoft), and pretty soon her co-workers were asking her to make salads for them. I was like — “We could make a business here!”

Molly, happy with her tech job, wasn’t interested in changing careers. (She is a small shareholder but doesn’t have an active role in the company). Kalb set to work, chopping vegetables in the commissary and traveling around Queen Anne looking for outlets. He had no cooking experience. “It was crazy.” He also had no funding.

With all that he didn’t have, he seemed to have had the right idea. Corporations and hospitals, among other clients, liked the health-focused meals. Ingredients come from regional companies and small producers like Willapa Hills cheese.

The goal from the outset, Kalb said, was “Let’s be interesting on a culinary level.”

Yam and kale wraps are made at Molly’s production facility in Georgetown. (John Lok/The Seattle Times)
Yam and kale wraps are made at Molly’s production facility in Georgetown. (John Lok/The Seattle Times)

James Brownsmith, a former sous chef at Canlis, oversees culinary development for Molly’s, and “talks my ear off about balance and having sweet and bitter and all of those things,” Kalb said.

Providing good prepackaged meals, Kalb says, is a worthwhile target to tackle — and one that this food-loving city needs.

“We go to these amazing restaurants and think “This is fantastic food and it’s been grown here!” he said. “But I don’t go to those restaurants every night . . . We eat at the airport, we eat at the cafeteria, we eat at the coffee shop.”

Molly’s keeps its recipes under wraps, but when I crave the company’s yam and kale wrap at home I make this, adapted from Allrecipes.com.

Yam and Kale Wraps

Makes 4 wraps

8 large kale leaves, ribs removed and cut into ribbons

¼ cup balsamic vinaigrette

2 small yams, peeled and diced

1 tablespoon olive oil

1 15-ounce can black beans, rinsed and drained

½ cup crumbled feta cheese

4 (9-inch) tortillas, warmed (use whole wheat or spinach tortillas if desired)

1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

2. Combine kale ribbons and vinaigrette well in a small bowl, set aside.

3. In a 9-by-13 baking pan, toss the diced yam in olive oil. Place in oven and bake until tender, about 20 minutes. Remove, salt to taste and allow to cool slightly.

4. Warm beans in a small saucepan over low to medium heat.

5. Place ¼ of diced yams on each tortilla. Top yams with black beans, kale and feta. (I don’t finish off the entire can of beans; portion to your taste.) Fold bottoms of tortillas partially over filling and roll to wrap the filling in the tortillas. Slice in half on a diagonal and serve.