A new healthy food concept from North Carolina is arriving in Virginia Beach.
In the Haywood Shopping Center at 1021 Independence Blvd., along a dense fast-food corridor home to drive-throughs from Chik-fil-A to Wendy’s, Clean Eatz is designed to be a healthy fast-casual alternative with low-sodium, low-fat meals and plenty of specialized diet options.
As megaliths like McDonald’s and Burger King lose ground – McDonald’s posted its largest single-day stock loss in history this year – healthy fast food has become the Holy Grail of the food industry, spurring countless nouveau salad bars and veggie burger chain startups. McDonald’s is rolling out fresh-beef Quarter Pounders, while White Castle now serves plant-based, beef-ish Impossible Burgers.
But while Clean Eatz dovetails with current trends, in some ways the franchise will be like no other eatery in town.
The restaurant is a bit like a cross between Weight Watchers, Blue Apron and a health-food Hardee’s.
“We like to describe it as a healthier lifestyle cafe” says Dylan Richmond, who plans to open his Virginia Beach franchise by the end of July. “We offer convenient access to fresh-tasting food: nutritious, quality product, no preservatives, the vegetables are all fresh.”
The franchise has expanded to 60 locations along the southeastern seaboard since its founding in 2011 in Wilmington, N.C.
On the one hand, it’s a quick stop, serving bison and turkey burgers, salmon quinoa bowls, Philly-cheesesteak flatbreads and 490-calorie chicken wraps with names like Watch Your Waist.
On the other it’s a weekly meal plan pick-up spot for people with special diets.
“We offer custom meal plans for athletes or for medical reasons,” Richmond says, “people who want to lose weight, gain weight, whatever your goals.”
Customers order a week’s worth of fresh, microwavable meals on the company’s website in advance, then pick them up on Monday or Tuesday. Specialized diet plans include extra protein, half-carb, no-carb and gluten-free, along with plans for vegan or diabetic customers. Per-meal price ranges from $6.50 to $8, with tax.
But unlike competitors such as Blue Apron or Plated, Clean Eatz does not deliver to your home.
“We’re doing 6,000 a week. We couldn’t get them out,” said Richmond, who’s already opened Clean Eatz franchises in North Carolina. “Part of that is freshness and quality: We have no control when it leaves the restaurant, and paying shipping to keep it fresh is pricey.”
Richmond realizes that for some consumers, health food might be a hard sell. There’s a reason restaurants tend to layer on the salt and fat – not just in fast-food but in fine dining options. Traditionally, that’s one of the main ways cooks offer big flavors.
Richmond, however, says he doesn’t agree there’s a trade-off between flavor and healthfulness.
“We don’t cook with oil, fry anything, don’t put salt on anything,” he says. “People like to use salt as flavor, but to me it’s not a flavor. It’s just a health concern. There are tons of other ways to flavor food with herbs and sauces. There’s no salt in our seasoning.”
Richmond says that if the Haywood location works out, he’s already got an eye on another spot in Virginia Beach.
“I’m hoping to go to another location,” Richmond says. “Virginia Beach is very huge.”