Matthew Corrin was fashion designer Oscar de la Renta's marketing manager, which meant a lot of long hours and a lot of hurried lunches. After his umpteenth greasy sandwich, Corrin began wondering why there weren't more convenient, waistline-friendly lunch alternatives. This rumination—and a resignation letter to de la Renta—begot Freshii, a fast, casual eatery that serves healthy meals and has graced the pages of various publications, including the Chicago Tribune and Inc.’s 30 Under 30 list. Environmental awareness also plays a big part in the business model as the food packaging is made from eco-friendly vegetable starches.
Every Freshii kitchen is stocked with the base ingredients of brown rice, romaine lettuce, field greens, spinach, and rice noodles; toppings such as carrots, broccoli, grilled tofu, and candied walnuts; and an array of dressings and sauces. Using these ingredients, the chefs create bowls, wraps, salads, soups, and burritos for lunch and dinner. During morning hours when the sun is still busy curling its rays, they scramble eggs, serve housemade oatmeal, and top fat-free frozen yogurt with a choice of fruit. Customers can bring their own bowls, and the staff will wash and fill them with fresh ingredients hailing from environmentally responsible farms that fairly compensate their workers.
Cafe de France captures the essence of European cuisine with a hefty menu brimming with mouth-moistening meals, coffees, and pastries. Each dish is prepared from fresh ingredients, free of unnecessary additives, preservatives, or immortality elixirs. Early-rising office workers can steel themselves against the Sisyphean struggles of their promotion to assistant boulder-pusher with a flaky croissant sandwich ($7.75–$8.99) or a hearty breakfast of salmon benedict ($10.95). Cafe de France also keeps appetite uprisings in check with a plethora of pasta, steak, and chicken entrees such as the steak bordelaise, with sautéed mushrooms and a burgundy-wine sauce ($14.75), or the pasta a la provencal, a mélange of angel-hair pasta, shrimp, tomatoes, and herbs ($11.50). A hearty helping of ham-and-cheese quiche lorraine with champagne sauce ($8.99) combines the savory wholesomeness of an omelet with the biting sarcasm of pie. Coup-de-grace your healthy craving for Gallic gastronomy with a dessert of cream-filled blintzes ($8.95).
Modmarket's chic interior serves as an ideal stage for the mouthwatering performances of the restaurant's wholesome, seasonal culinary stars. The menu—which contains nutritional information for each dish—eases diners into their restorative repast with an array of salads, available in such verdant configurations as thai coconut, whose bed of greens teems with sweet potatoes, chicken, and peanut-mango dressing ($8.75). Many of the eatery's salad dressings contain no gluten, animal byproducts, or narwhal tears, and the from-scratch soup selection always includes at least one vegan option. The restaurant's pizzasmiths forge exotic, innovative creations, such as the pizza sporting fig, goat cheese, gorgonzola, arugula, and pepper ($8.50), and all pizzas are available with soy cheese and whole-grain or gluten-free crusts. Sandwiches, such as the chipotle steak ($8.50), come with a choice of vegan bread or gluten-free wrap and toast to toothsome crispness in a 600-degree brick oven.
Smashburger isn't just the name—it's the way chefs grill every burger. First, they form never-frozen, 100% Angus beef into a giant meatball. Then they season it, place it on a butter-glazed grill, and smash it into a patty. The process caramelizes the beef, locking in flavor while keeping the meat juicy and tender. The chefs then sandwich each slab in an artisan bun and turn it into one of an array of standard burgers or locally inspired specialties unique to each market. This handcrafting approach typifies everything else the chefs do, from blending handspun Häagen-Dazs shakes to hand painting Smashburger's logo onto every beverage cup. Letting its food stand for itself and relying mostly on word of mouth for advertising, the Smashburger franchise expanded to 160 restaurants in five years, with its swift growth from zero to 100 stores making it one of the nation's fastest-growing restaurant companies. This rapid development even caught the attention of Forbes and Inc. along the way.
On average, it takes one year to invent a sandwich that meets the standards of Jason's Deli—countless combinations of breads and filling won't ever leave the test kitchen. Those that do follow a strict set of rules: no artificial trans fat, no high-fructose corn syrup, and flavors that come from freshness rather than additives. The results can be bitten into at hundreds of locations across America. At each, difficult choices abound between reubens and spicy-ranchero chicken wraps, or between a turkey club and a New Orleans-inspired muffaletta, spread with a family-recipe olive mix. Even those who don't want a sandwich still have to make tough decisions when they approach the salad bar brimming with organic fixings.
Despite the difficulties of selection, Jason's Deli prioritizes convenience. Its stores have organized a list of gluten-sensitive selections as well as healthy kids' meals, which come with sides of organic carrots or apples as opposed to other restaurants' deep-fried lard balls. The company also advocates for emotional health as fervently as it does nutrition—its Leadership Institute hosts workshops for employees on topics ranging from conflict resolution to finances to ethics.
Creative customization is key at Yogurtini, where a rotating cast of frozen yogurt flavors meets a large list of toppings to create personalized self-serve desserts. Each day, frozen yogurt flavors such as "The House" plain tart, cookies and cream, and red velvet are culled from a sprawling list and presented for customer selection, with vegan and gluten-free options available. After customers fill their cups or insulated to-go containers with yogurt, they can amble over to the toppings bar, which showcases more than 65 choices including popular candies, cookies, and fruits. Once their frozen treat is complete, customers can relax in one of several sea-foam-green chairs and enjoy.