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Evos says it was green before green was cool

TAMPA Being green is relatively easy today. That wasn’t the case back in 1994 when Evos, the burger chain with a social conscience, was born.

“It was more difficult to do so back then,” said Dino Lambridis, founder of the five-unit company, which cites its growth plans as evidence that it’s about to make a splash in the marketplace.

“Now, wow, there’s a lot of stuff, some more sustainable than others. Certainly there’s no excuse for any business … to not choose a product that’s sustainable and could be cheaper than non-sustainable stuff.”

While it may sound ho-hum today, sustainability has been part of the company’s mission from Day One. Evos emphasizes its socially and environmentally conscious business practices, ranging from the purchasing of organic ingredients to using eco-friendly and energy-saving materials.

Healthy eating is another key aspect of Evos, whose name is derived from the word “evolve”. Its hamburgers, fries and milkshakes “contain 50 to 70% less fat than its competitors,” the company touts. It also has a 100 percent trans-fat free menu, the result in part of using specialty ovens.

Now that the rest of the quick-casual world is catching up with the environmental and health concepts behind Evos, the company feels that it has a few bragging rights.

“We’re the mature one of the group,” Lambridis said.

“We’re not doing it because it’s cool. We believe in those values and that a business has a responsibility to do it and that it will lead to a shift in people’s thinking and it will become the norm.”

Like Starbucks, Evos says it is as much about the experience as about the food and the atmosphere. “When you walk into Evos and hold an EVOS cup, you feel good, or you feel great eating what you’re eating,” said Lambridis.  People are willing to spend more for something that is inherently good for them and make a difference.”

The company feels the time is ripe to grow. It recently signed a franchise agreement with Healthy Fast Food Inc. for the development of 107 stores over the next five years.

Evos signed another agreement with SKS Healthy Foods LLC for 21 stores over five years in North Carolina and metro Atlanta.

Its sales numbers, like its stores, are expanding. Average unit volume for its three corporate stores is $938,000.

“We have had double digit comps annually for over six years,” Lambridis said.

Meanwhile, total company revenues expanded by 52 percent to $3.58 million in 2007 from $2.35 million in 2006. It had a total of approximately 85 employees in 2007.

When making a business case with investors, Lambridis pitches experience. The company has been around long enough that it has worked out the kinks and is in a position to take on the national scene, he said. The company also has figured out how to strike a balance between being socially responsible and profitable, he said.

The company’s authenticity sets it apart from the crowd, said Ryan Gallagher, of Spark, a “branding agency” that  represents Evos.

“The environmental stuff is what everybody is doing now, but these guys have been touting it since its inception,” Gallagher said. “I think of Evos as more of a movement. They’ve been at the forefront of this green idea, but they live it and breathe it and they have since their inception.”

Lambridis, who grew up in the restaurant industry, started Evos with his friends, Alkis Crassas and Michael Jeffers, after graduating from college. They were learning about health but didn’t want to give up eating tasty but high-fat burgers and fries.

“That’s where it spawned off into ‘why isn’t there a place to eat where you could get better ingredients?’” Lambridis said. “That idea came, maybe we should do our own.”

The three immersed themselves in research about food, health and the environment. They came to believe that everything has an impact on the environment.

“Every decision we were making for us was, ‘Is there a negative impact, and if so is there an option?’ It became natural and it wasn’t complex anymore,” Lambridis said.

That mindset gave way to business practices such as using environmentally friendly atmospherically safe paints and adhesives, and eco-friendly flooring materials.

The company prints guest brochures based on recycled paper with soy-based rather than petroleum-based inks. Its stores offset a portion of their energy usage with renewable wind energy, according to the company.

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