Like many people who live life on the fast track – working long hours and grabbing quick meals here and there, Karen Woolard Finley had come to know that lifestyle quite well. “I’ve always been health conscious, but when you have a fast-paced life and you’re moving back and forth as we all do, it’s hard to be healthy and on the go at the same time,” Finley said of the lifestyle she once shared with her husband while living in a New York City apartment.
“I was searching out something [different to eat] and I found an Energy Kitchen near our apartment and I just fell in love with it,” she continued. “All their menu items are 500 calories or less. There are even three items that under 300 calories.”
Founded in 2004, Energy Kitchen – a Manhattan-based fast-casual chain with a health-centric menu – is backed by Vitaminwater co-founder Mike Repole.
Since March, business has skyrocketed with franchises have grown from six locations to 10 throughout New York City. Plans call for additions in South Florida, Boston and New Jersey, and over the next decade, founder Anthony Leone wants to have established about 1,000 restaurants nationwide.
Finley, 58, who now lives in D.C., loved the restaurant’s fare so much when she was in New York, that she eventually worked out an agreement with Leone to set up her own franchises in the D.C. area.
By the end of the year she expects to open her first restaurant in downtown D.C., and her later plans call for opening another in Chevy Chase as well as a Centric Kitchen in Georgetown.
The Richmond, Va., native said the meals that will continue to be served up fast-food style with a focus on health and nutrition.
“Everything’s steamed, baked, grilled or broiled, and it’s all whole grain,” Finley said. “Nothing is fried and everything’s made to order right on the spot,” she continued. “There is meat, but it’s chicken, bison and ostrich – things that are low in fat.”
According to the research organization, Franchise Mall, in addition to a $30,000 franchise fee, it typically costs about $750,000 to launch such business ventures.
While Finley declined to go into specifics over set-up costs, she said however, that she has had great support from Leone. Finley also said that as a result of her restaurants, over the next three years she expects to have created 40 to 45 new jobs in the District.
“We really need this [kind of restaurant fare], especially among the African-American community,” said Finley, which has long been susceptible to greater incidences of life-threatening conditions that include obesity and high blood pressure.
“The obesity epidemic in our country has hit our community especially hard,” Finley said. “I’ve looked at statistics which state that 71 percent of men and 79 percent of women are over weight or obese in our community and I think we just need to focus on the harm that brings.”
Leone said through a company statement that, “It’s an exciting time for us as we build momentum and take big steps towards our national expansion goal.”
He added that as more consumers begin to realize that fast food doesn’t have to be fat food, his franchises look forward to providing them with healthy and delicious alternatives to dining.