Bensalem’s Irene Johns opens expanded Aussie’s Kitchen meal prep location in Penndel
By Samantha Bambino
If someone told Irene Johns five years ago where she’d be today, she would’ve laughed in disbelief. At that time, the Bensalem resident and single mom of two was surpassing 230 pounds, triglyceride levels through the roof. Today, not only is Johns nearly 100 pounds lighter, she’s become something of a health guru to the community through her meal prep company, Aussie’s Kitchen.
After the business’ unprecedented success at its first location, 1808 Brownsville Road in Feasterville-Trevose, Johns has expanded to a larger shop at 389 W. Lincoln Highway in Penndel, which features grab-and-go options, healthy bakery items and infused waters.
Prior to the Penndel store’s grand opening on Monday, July 23, The Times caught up with Johns and her children, 21-year-old Keaun and 9-year-old Jada, to learn more about her weight loss journey and how it sparked this thriving family business.
It was during a routine doctor’s appointment in 2013 that the story of Aussie’s Kitchen truly began. Johns admittedly struggled with her weight all her life, but it wasn’t until her doctor prescribed her medication for high triglycerides (a type of fat found in the blood) that she realized how bad it had become. But as someone who’s not the biggest fan of medicine, she went about things her own way.
“I walked out of the doctor’s office going, I’m done,” Johns reflected. “I went shopping and just cut everything out.”
Within three months of eliminating processed foods from her diet, Johns lost 34 pounds. By the following year, she was down a total of 55, hitting the gym regularly and preparing all of her own meals. As if this significant lifestyle revamp wasn’t enough of a change, around the same time, Johns said goodbye to her longtime career in the corporate world. She craved a new direction, but wasn’t quite sure where to turn.
As she attempted to figure out her life’s calling, Johns still needed to make ends meet for her and her children, so she asked a friend for a job at her bar. Rather than have Johns mix drinks or tend to tables, her friend requested something else of her — “cook for me.”
It was these three simple words that changed everything. Since Johns was already crafting inventive meals for herself, drawing from her Australian/Macedonian upbringing, it was second nature to prepare recipes on a larger scale. Word of her culinary talents spread quickly throughout the community, and Johns soon found herself in the kitchen at 5 a.m. measuring out portions for the hundreds of meal requests flooding in.
In December 2016, with much assistance from Keaun, the Brownsville Road location of Aussie’s Kitchen opened to the public, its local popularity growing like wildfire. Within six months, Johns knew she needed to expand. Never in her wildest dreams did she envision herself operating her own shop, but when your offerings are unique compared to the rest of the meal prep market, people are going to take notice.
According to Johns, Aussie’s Kitchen is all about health and affordability.
“I didn’t want to target gym people because there’s enough of those out there. I wanted mom, dad, single mom to be able to afford a healthy meal,” she said, explaining how it’s cheaper to purchase three Aussie’s Kitchen meals for $18 rather than Chick-fil-A. “Being a single mom, I factored in what I would want to pay. I really wanted it to be accessible for everybody.”
While the “fit” and “buff” are always welcome, Johns’ mission is to provide her clients with more than a ripped six pack.
“When your customers come in and say, ‘I’m no longer on blood pressure medicine.’ ‘I’m no longer on insulin and it’s only been six months on your meals.’ That’s the most rewarding,” she said. “I always deep in my heart wanted to do something where I help people. But I never wanted to be a nurse or a psychologist. I guess I found my niche in this. My weight loss brought me to what I’m destined to do in my life. And that was huge to me”
Each week, a different variety of 15 breakfast, lunch, dinner and snack items are offered, with an occasional Australian classic like fish and chips. Most of the meals consist of 4, 6 or 8 ounce portions of cooked protein (chicken, fish, beef), a side and a vegetable, all of which can be heated up at home in 1–3 minutes. Johns personally weighs all of the food, never eyeballing any measurements. She’s also a bit of a scientist when it comes to the meals, experimenting with ingredients to craft dishes that will keep customers on their toes.
“You don’t want to get bored with chicken, broccoli and rice all the time,” she said.
Johns prides herself on consistently serving fresh food that allows people to feel good after consuming it, not sluggish. For example, at the new Penndel location, everything from the waffles to the low-carb bagels are baked on-site.
“The less preservatives that we consume, the better,” she said.
As Johns continues to grow the Aussie’s Kitchen brand, she revels in the fact that her kids are gaining valuable life lessons. Jada, a competitive gymnast, is not only learning how to fuel her body with the proper foods, but how to set goals for herself and achieve them.
Keaun, who used to help his mom in the kitchen at 5 a.m., has witnessed firsthand the drive it takes to be successful. Though he has bigger dreams of someday becoming a rapper, he’ll be able to apply this experience to the often competitive music industry.
“We’ve built this amazing kitchen in a matter of two years just from hard work,” he said. “So it’s basically teaching me for the rest of my life, if you put all you can into something, it’s going to be great.”
Johns, who can now bench 225 pounds at the gym, is truly the definition of hard work paying off. For any Aussie’s Kitchen customer or random stranger encountered, she’s an open book, always willing to share the trials and triumphs of her weight loss to hopefully inspire them during their own journeys.
“It’s amazing where life will take you if you just take that leap of faith,” she said. “Now there’s no going back.” ••
Aussie’s Kitchen, 389 W. Lincoln Highway in Penndel, is open 9 a.m. to 8 p.m. Monday-Friday; 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturdays; and 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Sundays. Visit aussieskitchenmealprep.com or facebook.com/aussieskitchen for more information.
Samantha Bambino can be reached at email@example.com