Anita Jones-Mueller, M.P.H., president and founder of Healthy Dining, a nutrition-related marketing and consulting firm, interviews Antonio Ellek, founder and chief executive of Pasha’s Healthy Mediterranean Cuisine, an 8-unit chain out of Miami.
Ellek began the idea behind Pasha's as an MBA project at Harvard, where his team saw a market gap for easy foods that are also good for you.
The interview has been edited for length, and the full story can be seen at Healthy Dining’s Restaurant Nutrition News & Insights.
Antonio, Pasha’s is such a unique concept with a perfect combination of ingredients: great-tasting, healthy Mediterranean food, fast and convenient, and casual and relaxing settings. You have grown to eight locations in the Miami area, and each one seems to be a big success. Tell us how you developed the Pasha’s concept.
Looking back, Pasha’s was developed as my MBA project at Harvard. I grew up on the Mediterranean shores of Turkey with lots of pomegranates, figs, olives and hummus. When I came to the States, these Mediterranean ingredients were hard to find. As a business guy, I saw a real market gap … there was not an easy, quick way to eat Mediterranean, the way I loved to eat. So, it was a natural for me to work on this concept as part of my Master’s project. I had already worked in banking and on Wall Street, and so I knew the business side, and my project received high marks and a lot of praise from the professors. But they urged me to work in restaurants to truly learn all I needed to launch a new concept. So I did. I worked in almost every aspect, from breading the chicken to serving it. And I learned a lot. And now we have eight locations with two more opening in the next few months.
So, tell us about Pasha’s. How does it fill the market gap you found?
Pasha’s serves fresh, tasty and healthy Mediterranean cuisine in a casually elegant setting. All of our food is freshly made to order, and we only use natural ingredients with no preservatives, no additives, no trans fats and no MSG. We are located in strategic areas such as in the Four Seasons Sports Club, the University of Miami’s Medical and Wellness Center, the Aventura Mall and right in the hub of South Beach. So, we are able to develop a following of very loyal guests. In fact, about 50% of our guests eat at Pasha’s once a week.
What are some of your best-selling items?
Our hummus is our trademark. It is my grandmother’s recipe. She lived to 100 eating hummus as a staple in her diet. Our hummus has garbanzos, olive oil and the perfect blend of spices. We have a really wide variety of menu items. My sister, Carla, has been key in developing the menu based on many of our family recipes. We have some great homemade soups, and Yani, which is a Mediterranean stew. Our chicken soup has a lot of vegetables, and our lentil soup has carrots, onions and herbs. We offer wraps, grilled kebab platters and salads. Each of these can be ordered vegetarian or with chicken, beef or salmon.
I love that you offer Salmon in so many ways, in a wrap or kebab platter or on a few different types of salads. What is Choban?
Choban is a medley of tomatoes, cucumbers, bell peppers, onions and herbs, and then you have your choice of beef, chicken, salmon or vegetarian. And then we top all that with an extra virgin olive oil dressing.
Sounds great! Thanks Antonio. I think all would agree that this MBA project is an A+. Congratulations!
About Anita Jones-Mueller, M.P.H.
Anita founded Healthy Dining with a vision and dedication to contribute to a healthier America by “bringing together the culinary brilliance of the restaurant industry with America’s growing quest for great-tasting, healthier cuisine.” She is a nationally recognized authority bringing to market innovative nutrition-related strategies and solutions to enable the restaurant industry to prosper while helping to educate and empower Americans to enjoy healthier cuisine. Anita earned a Master’s Degree in Public Health from San Diego State University.
Contact Anita Jones-Muller at [email protected].