One of the nation's most talked about concepts is making its Manhattan debut this month. LYFE is an acronym for “Love Your Food Everyday,” and it's a fast-casual concept where everything on the menu is 600 calories or less.
It was launched in 2011 by a group of food industry veterans, including Oprah Winfrey personal chef Art Smith and former McDonald's executives Michael Donahue and Mike Roberts.
“New York City is our biggest restaurant – 10,000 square feet,” noted Donahue. It’s got a ground level and mezzanine level seating for 126. And, of course, we’re using New York suppliers wherever we can. We’re using mushrooms from Pennsylvania, and when they’re in season we’ll be using asparagus, zucchini, peppers and melons from third-generation farmers in New Jersey.
As we grow and get to know the area, we’ll do more and more of that. We also put in a mural of a beautiful farm in upper New York. “
“We're not preachy,” Donahue continued. “We want you to have a great-tasting meal.” Signature dishes include edamame hummus, corn chowder, kale Caesar salad and a Gardein “chicken” version of Art Smith's famous fried chicken. The menu features grass-fed beef, a gluten-free menu, and numerous vegan options created by noted vegan chef Tal Ronnen. His creations include a teriyaki bowl with Gardein “beef tips” and a creamy corn chowder.
The “healthy” restaurant wave seems to rebuff the tendency among consumers who say they want to eat healthy but then in practice make unhealthy choices.
“Consumers have been asking for this for a long time,” Donahue says. “There are billions of dollars spent on food that is healthy, but it's not a one-stop shop, whether it's Whole Foods or Jenny Craig.”
But Donahue says that LYFE accomplishes one simple thing: The food tastes good. “We spent a year on a taste quest with the king of Southern cooking, Art Smith,” he says. “He's known for his fried chicken, mac and cheese, but also for working with Oprah providing the turkey meat loaf she used to love. He had gone through his own transformation. He lost 100-some pounds.”
They devised recipes that had flavor without using butter, cream or sodium, and they tested the food in focus groups, primarily “women and moms,” Donahue says. Another big part of their approach is to go soft-sell.
“I think people are more open to something when it's warm and inviting,” he says. “We're not preachy. We want you to have a great-tasting meal.
“But we believe in indulgence. We have a chocolate budini mousse dessert; it's a fluffy chocolate mousse that's under 200 calories. We have burgers and steak, but they're grass-fed.”
They may not be preachy, but they follow a “wellness” approach to everything they do, from seeking out biodynamic wine and serving wine on tap to recycling and using recycled products. “We think about that with every decision we make,” Donahue says.
Although he prefers to play down his McDonald's background, some of that company's practices surface. “Our serving times are 10 minutes,” he says. “We're creating a new category that's somewhere between fast food and fast casual.”
Compared to competitors such as LYFE is quite a bit cheaper, with a dish like barramundi clocking in at $12.99. Another big difference between LYFE and its competitors comes in the area of transparency. Tracking down figures on calories and sodium can be a challenge, while LYFE posts its information.
The firm focuses on seasonal menus. Its taste of fall with new menu items that celebrate the freshness and flavor of the season. With produce like kale, snap peas and butternut squash now in abundance, LYFE 's culinary team updated the menu to offer a seasonal line-up of great tasting, good for you food meant to satisfy without slowing you down.
The new Fall signature items are featured as new seasonal chalkboard specials in every restaurant. LYFE Kitchen guests will now find a continually changing array of dishes based on the freshest ingredients available, new interesting flavors and regional favorites.
“Variety is the spice of LYFE,” explains Mike Roberts, cofounder and CEO of LYFE Kitchen. “Our new Fall menu and new chalkboard specials deliver both variety and spice: in abundance. More options and changing featured items mean that there is always something new to discover and enjoy at LYFE Kitchen. And our bold, bright flavors for Fall deliver the great taste and good for you ingredients that make it easy to love your food everyday.”
“One of the reasons I stand behind LYFE Kitchen Restaurants is that the menu is absolutely fantastic and inclusive to everyone’s personal food preferences, including paleo, gluten-free, vegetarian, vegan, and flexitarian options,” says Chance Carlisle, CEO of LYFE Kitchen Restaurants.
LYFE also has focused on the team that is building to accomplish its goals in Metro NYC. “We want to hire people that are as passionate about our food as we are.” Joseph Favuzzi, General Manager of the New York City location adds, “LYFE Kitchen offers more than just a job. It’s an avocation as we are looking for LYFERS who personally embody the lifestyle of LYFE Kitchen.”
“We want to hire people that are as passionate about our food as we are,” Carlisle added. LYFE Kitchen Restaurants offer industry-leading compensation, including above average hourly wages, rewards programs, and individual coaching and wellness programs designed to help LYFERS implement the company mantra, “Eat Good. Feel Good. Do Good,” in the communities in which they live and work.
The East 55th Street location will be the 15th LYFE Kitchen Restaurants’ location, with additional plans to continue expansion within NYC, and across the U.S.