When real estate experts began to expand the concept of healthy fast food that had been so successful in the western United States, they looked for areas with a strong and active foodie population. “Dallas just jumped off the map,” says Mike Donahue, co-founder of LYFE Kitchen. Preston Hollow, to be exact.
Over the past year, LYFE and other new dining establishments have flocked to our neighborhood, touting farm-fresh produce, sustainably raised meats and clean, whole foods — all in a modernized fast-food setting. The menus feature trendy health foods such as kale and quinoa but also traditionally indulgent yet unprocessed burgers, tacos and pizza, and calorie counts to go with them.
None of this is particularly groundbreaking in a sophisticated, epicurean town like ours. We have no shortage of quality, health-conscious restaurants. But the more we have, the better they become, and novel ideas begin to surface — $2 Texas wine from a tap, for example. Here, we take a closer look at these healthy fast-casual restaurants that are making their mark on the Preston Hollow dining scene.
People have to eat out all the time. At least, that’s what Modmarket’s co-owner Anthony
Pigliacampo has concluded. Most households have two working parents now; life is busy.
“If you look at the history of the restaurant industry, it started out as something that was indulgent,” he says. “The menus of the those restaurants were not designed with food you could eat every day.”
Healthy food is “becoming more necessary,” which is why he and business partner Rob McColgan came up with the concept for Modmarket.
The Colorado-based restaurant opens Feb. 4 in the new Preston Hollow Village development at the northwest corner of Walnut Hill and Central, and promises meals under $10 served in under 10 minutes.
Modmarket carefully walks the spectrum, catering to hardcore health nuts and your average steak-and-potatoes customer. The restaurant’s two most popular menu items are the superfood salad with a spinach-and-kale blend, quinoa pilaf, feta, carrots, almonds, red grapes and champagne vinaigrette; and the steak sandwich on ciabatta bread with chipotle aioli, Muenster cheese, mixed greens and tomato. The calorie counts come to 606 and 660, respectively.
It shows that the common definition of “healthy” is changing.
“It doesn’t have to be so reductive,” Pigliacampo says. The 40 grams of fat in a salad dish comes from nuts and cheese and olive oil, rather than globs of ranch dressing.
The 12-inch brick-oven pizzas are made in-house daily with whole-wheat dough, and you can opt for gluten-free. The selections range from crimini kale (487 calories) to barbecue (840 calories).
The company sources locally, sometimes. Right now, you’ll find winter citrus from Texas incorporated into certain dishes. The restaurant is more focused on seasonal produce, changing parts of the menu several times a year.
Pigliacampo also recognized that beer and wine are an important part of dining out, even if it is “fast food.” In addition to local craft beers, Modmarket has Tiamo organic wine on tap, starting at $2 a glass. The tap reduces bottle waste and lowers the cost — because who wants an $8 glass of wine to go with their $7 salad?
Modmarket originated in Boulder in 2009 and expanded through Colorado. The next stop was Texas. In addition to Preston Hollow, locations recently opened in Plano and Flower Mound, with more coming to Southlake and Richardson.
Pigliacampo says Dallas aligns with Denver — young, well-educated families who are active and outdoorsy and care about what they eat. “Preston Hollow is a great illustration of that,” he says.
With its lime green and orange décor and shelves stocked with color-coded plastic containers, Snap Kitchen at Preston Royal Village has a regimented feel.
It’s the latest of several shops in our neighborhood, along with My Fit Foods and Simply Fit Meals, offering healthy, take-home meals. Nearly every food lifestyle is represented — paleo, vegan, gluten-free, you name it. But it all falls under the umbrella of whole foods.
“We don’t like to be established as one or the other,” says Daniel Magoon, nutritionist for Snap Kitchen.
The Austin-based company recently began expanding to Dallas, opening in Preston Hollow this past fall. Popping a meal into the microwave for 30 seconds has its appeal; it’s a kind of modernized TV dinner, dreamed up by chef Matthew Reinhart.
The most popular item is a rendition of a conventionally heavy, high-fat dish: chicken and green chili enchiladas, which aren’t enchiladas at all. They’re savory, chicken-filled crepes topped with a creamy poblano sauce and pickled red onions. The deviled eggs (categorized in the snack section of the store) come filled with jalapeño hummus. The grass-fed bison quinoa is a hearty lunch dish with smashed kidney beans and cheddar cheese. The cold-pressed juices replace meals entirely with all four or five ingredients listed on the bottle.
Much of the mantra of Snap Kitchen involves losing weight, aside from just making healthier choices. People have dropped 10-12 pounds on its 21-day meal plan. Chances are you may walk into the store and have no clue which containers to choose.
“The idea is to have higher carbs during the day and higher protein at dinner,” Magoon says. And eat five times a day, because “when you aren’t starving, you’re more mindful of what you should eat.”
The Snap Kitchen menu changes with the seasons, and the shop sources locally as much as possible. For instance, it stopped carrying pork altogether because it couldn’t find a local producer it liked.
LYFE Kitchen co-founder Mike Donahue hates being asked about his former gig as McDonald’s chief communications officer — as if his current work is some form of atonement.
Vilifying those kinds of fast-food joints isn’t very productive, he says, because it’s the consumer who ultimately drives the market. That’s what created LYFE Kitchen.
Unlike other industries such as technology — Apple engineered devices we never knew we needed — restaurants take cues from the public.
“In the restaurant industry, I find that the consumer is far ahead of the industry,” Donahue says.
The health-conscious attitude is nothing new. Donahue commends the efforts of Dr. Kenneth Cooper to educate people about the dangers of being sedentary. The influx of healthy fast-food restaurants (such as the Cedars Woodfire Grill that opened on the Cooper Aerobics campus) indicates that “the issues have become so much bigger,” Donahue says.
Donahue saw a niche — and a challenge, to make sure the food actually tastes good. He enlisted executive chef Art Smith, a well-known health-food guru who served as Oprah Winfrey’s personal chef for 10 years, along with executive chef Jeremy Bringardner, who came out of the same Johnson & Wales University culinary training program as Emeril Lagasse and Tyler Florence.
They spent the better part of a year creating and taste-testing dishes for the menu, which includes items such as quinoa bowls, kale salad and roasted Brussels sprouts. Then there are healthy versions of buffalo chicken strips, the grass-fed burger, and steak and potatoes. Everything includes nutritional info, and the menu denotes gluten-free, vegan and vegetarian items. The corn chowder — an underrated dish that most people don’t know to order — is actually vegan, made with cashew cream.
Like Modmarket, LYFE Kitchen also offers selections of wine on tap and local craft beers.
Donahue — who tries to avoid the “H” word (healthy) —has a name for these types of restaurants that, he says, don’t fall into the typical fast-food genre nor the fast-casual concept. They are ”lifestyle restaurants,” or LSR in insider real estate speak.
“It’s a new kind of service model,” he says.
LYFE Kitchen also has a location in Uptown and in Plano with at least 60 more restaurants coming across the country over the next three years.
“We wanted to make sure we had a national footprint, build out in our primary markets like Dallas,” Donahue says.
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