Pioneers of Healthy Dining
Protein Bar & Kitchen, True Food Kitchen continue to make power moves in 2020.
A full decade before the Impossible Burger phenom changed the landscape, two visionary restaurateurs fearlessly went all in on menus packed with plants and protein and nary a trace of processed anything. Among the first to pave the way for the explosion of health-focused restaurants to follow, Protein Bar & Kitchen and True Food Kitchen are still leading the pack.
There wasn’t a “better for you” fast-casual category when Chicago-based Protein Bar opened, but the protein-centric shakes and bowls became instant hits. By the time Jeff Drake took over as CEO in 2017, competition had become fierce.
In a perfect example of rebranding without losing your core, Drake added a slew of healthy entrees designed to deliver on the original 15-grams-of-protein promise, riced cauliflower for the no-carbers and tacked “& Kitchen” to the name to signify the more complete food experience.
“We know that diners are seeking out and [are] willing to pay more for healthy options, but it’s not enough to just be ‘better for you.’ It has to be delicious and culinarily interesting too,” asserts Drake.
He kept rolling them out: sweet potato falafel, eggs perfectly poached sous vide, a healthy spin on buffalo wings, and in 2018, added one of the industry’s most buzzworthy ingredients, CBD oil, as a beverage boost. Offered as a special that spring, “it blew up,” recalls Drake, and now the carefully sourced CBD is available yearround.
True Food Kitchen (TFK) launched with a powerhouse of talent at the base, including integrative medicine founder Dr. Andrew Weil, whose anti-inflammatory food pyramid inspires the menu, an award-winning chef and an uber-successful restaurateur.
Not surprisingly, the full-service restaurants were packed from the start with millennials, and growth is accelerating quicker than ever, with 29 locations and counting, according to brand chef Robert McCormick. Each is helmed by an executive chef and sous chefs, deftly crafting dishes like the “unbeetable” burger, a scratch-made affair of roasted beets, chickpeas, quinoa, oats and Kuzu root.
Everything, in fact, is made from scratch, cooked to optimize nutritional value, and deep fryers are non-existent. TFK continues to evolve, adding bowls, craft cocktails, even grass-fed steak, driven by their mission that food should always make you feel better.
McCormick advises on how you can take the first step towards a “better for you” vibe: “Eat a meal at your restaurant and if you feel like taking a nap afterwards, take a hard look at your pantry and your source for ingredients, and add a healthy vegetable to the menu.”