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True Food Kitchen teams with wellness author 
to sell food with healthful halo

True Food Kitchen bases its appeal on good-for-you food without an in-your-face health message.

The 2-year-old creation of Arizona’s Fox Restaurant Concepts and best-selling wellness author Dr. Andrew Weil opened its third unit in Scottsdale, Ariz., Nov. 15, and plans a fourth in Austin, Texas, early next year. The company is eyeing locations on the East Coast, as well.

VIDEO: Kent Walker, general manager for True Food Kitchen, talks about the concept's mission

The privately held Fox Restaurant Concepts, which owns more than 30 restaurants and 12 concepts, procured a $10 million loan from P.F. Chang’s China Bistro Inc. in August 2009 to expand True Food Kitchen. Chang’s has the option of turning its debt capital into a majority equity position in the concept.

Owner: Fox Restaurant Concepts

Headquarters: Scottsdale, Ariz.

Market segment: Casual dining

No. of Units: 3
Per-person check average: $20-$30

Method of growth: Company-owned
Leadership: Sam Fox, founder and chairman

Competitors: Independent healthful food restaurants

Target Markets: 
Arizona, California, Texas and East Coast

“This concept is a partnership between Fox Restaurants and Dr. Andrew Weil,” said Kent Walker, general manager of the concept. “It was spurred when Dr. Weil came to Sam [Fox, the founder] down in Tucson — they are both from there — and basically came up with an idea where Dr. Weil’s teachings and his philosophies and his anti-inflammatory diet could be shown to the public in a restaurant.”

The first health-oriented True Food opened in 2008 in Phoenix’s Biltmore Fashion Park. A second opened earlier this year at Fashion Island in Newport Beach, Calif., and the third debuted Nov. 15 at Scottsdale Quarter in Arizona.

“About 70 to 80 percent of our guests are female, especially at lunch,” Walker said. “Part of that has something to do with our location. This original location and the one in Newport Beach are in mall settings. The menu is light. It is something that is refreshing and that you can eat three or four days a week.” 

That said, Walker added, “We do have a lot of male regulars.”

Sales for the lunch and dinner dayparts are about evenly split, Walker said. “We have a cool cocktail list and some sake and some wine that really kind of tend toward the dinner side.”

True Food also offers non-alcoholic cocktails, or what Walker calls “natural refreshments.” The most popular is the Medicine Man for $6, a combination of cranberry, olivello and pomegranate juice with muddled blueberries and sea-buckthorn berry. 

“They are all based around antioxidants,” he said. “These drinks are really good for you, and they taste good as well.”

The menu at True Food Kitchen features global cuisine, influenced chiefly by the Mediterranean, Asia and California. True Food Kitchen chef Michael Stebner said: “[Consumers] with dietary restrictions often have limited choices when eating out. True Food Kitchen offers a wide variety of dishes to appeal to those with specific food intolerances or someone simply looking for a flavorful meal they can feel good about eating.”

The best-selling dish is the Tuscan Kale Salad for $6, with raw kale, lemon, Parmesan cheese and breadcrumbs. 

“Kale is an ingredient that most people think they don’t like,” Walker said. “So when they come in here and find they can actually eat this and really enjoy it, it is almost like a cult-following with that salad.”

Dinner pizzas range from $10 to $12 in price, and entrées cost from $12 to $22.

Sam Fox, chief executive and president of Fox Restaurant Concepts, said the concept has resonated well with guests. 

“The popularity of this concept shows that diners are concerned with what goes into their food, but they aren’t willing to sacrifice flavor,” he said.

“We’ve come up with some cool new design ideas,” Walker said. “We’ve had a lot of evolution in the food, as well. The chef has come up with some great ideas like the buffalo short ribs.”

The design relies on many environmentally friendly features, such as low-voltage lighting, reclaimed wood flooring and, in the most recent Scottsdale location, solar panels.

The newest 4,000-square-foot True Food seats 100 inside and more than 100 at seating and communal tables on a 3,500-square-foot patio outside, where the restaurant grows its own herbs and, eventually, some citrus fruits.

True Food Kitchen is open seven days a week and doesn’t take reservations. 

Besides True Food Kitchen, Fox Restaurant Concepts, founded in 1998, owns and operates such restaurants as Culinary Dropout, NoRTH, Olive & Ivy Restaurant & Marketplace and Sauce in Arizona, Colorado, Kansas and Texas. 

Contact Ron Ruggless at [email protected]

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