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Q&A: Charlie Cocotas of UFood Grill

Q&A: Charlie Cocotas of UFood Grill

Anita Jones-Mueller, M.P.H., president and founder of Healthy Dining, a nutrition-related marketing and consulting firm, interviews Charlie Cocotas, President and COO of UFood Grill. The 75-year-old came out of retirement to spread his passion for healthy dining.

The interview has been edited for length, and the full story can be seen at Healthy Dining’s Restaurant Nutrition News & Insights.

Charlie, when we discussed your New Year’s resolutions for 2011, you said you wanted to lose the five pounds you gained since high school. With that statement, I was thinking you might be turning 30, but you are 75! Tell us your secret.

I have always been a health nut. I’ve been exercising several days a week since high school. Right now, I work out at a gym three to five times per week, using a mix of free weights and machines. And, I’ve been eating healthy for years, even while working in the restaurant business. I’ve held executive positions at several quick service chains over the years, but I always knew that I could only eat that food occasionally or I would gain weight. You can imagine how thrilled I was to take the position of President at UFood.

Tell us about UFood and how it helps you keep fit.

UFood is the place “where delicious meets nutritious”. We have a dynamite chef who has designed the menu to include lighter traditional favorites as well as his creative, healthful innovations. Our guests love that our menu is based on quality ingredients such as choice meats, organic products, fresh produce, whole grains and light cheeses and dressings. And we steam, grill and bake everything. We don’t even have a fryer. We want to make it easy for our guests to feel great by enjoying eating smart.

I hope you’ll be growing the concept from Boston to California.

We are. Right now, we have five locations in the Boston area, where we are headquartered, two in Dallas, and one in Cleveland. Four of our locations are in airports where we have been met with great success and appreciation from the traveling public.

I read that you came out of retirement to take the helm at UFood.

Yes, I was living in Cape Cod and happily retired for six years. Then, I ran into my good friend, George Nadoff, who is the CEO of UFood. He founded Boston Market and hired me as President many years ago when we started the company then known as Boston Chicken. When George told me about UFood, I was really enthralled with the concept. So, it didn’t take George much to entice me to give up my retirement and get back to work. Considering the obesity epidemic in our country, I know that this type of “better-for-you” food is what America needs. I have a lot of energy and I feel so good and want to help make it easy for others to be able to enjoy food that is healthier, too.

So your guests must be really committed to eating healthy?

Well, healthy has different meanings to different people, so we offer the whole spectrum, such as lower sodium, reduced fat, low carb, high protein, gluten free, vegan and vegetarian. But really, our customers represent a broad demographic and generally just like the food we serve. Most of our guests are 18 to 49, and 55% are female. I think our guests not only like the food but also trust UFood. They read the nutrition information because they care about what they put into their body. They like our transparency and our high quality ingredients.

How does UFood keep the promise of serving healthy food that tastes great?

Our chef is creative. He cuts calories where he can without cutting flavor. Our burgers are made with lean meat, low-fat cheese, whole-wheat buns and low-fat mayo. Our paninis have less fat, as compared with our competitor, because we use low-fat or non-fat cheeses and add flavor through other ingredients. Same with our wraps. Our smoothies are made with non-fat yogurt and contain lots of probiotics. Our “unfries” are baked perfectly, crispy on the edges. I’d say they are better than fried fries anywhere.

What’s your favorite?

That’s hard. I love UFood’s Chicken Pesto Panini, but our Turkey Burger is phenomenal, the best I’ve ever had.

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].


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