Looking for a quick and healthy meal on-the-go? NBA Star Ray Allen and his wife opened a healthy fast food restaurant in Miami and it might just be the healthiest fast food place in America.
The scene: While playing for the Boston Celtics, one of NBA star Ray Allen’s children was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes. His wife Shannon began cooking healthy, natural meals at home, but being an overscheduled modern mother, shuttling five kids to soccer games and events, she quickly became frustrated with the lack of non-processed options available out on the road. In 2008, after consulting with experts from Harvard’s Business School and School of Public Health, she developed a business plan to open a healthy fast food restaurant with a drive-thru. Eight years later and after a trade to the Miami Heat, the Allens opened Grown two months ago, and the response has been overwhelming.
“I was cooking for a professional athlete for 20 years, and had a lot of help from expert trainers and nutritionists,” says Shannon Allen. She got her friend Tara Mardigan, longtime nutritionist for the Boston Red Sox and author of Real Fit Kitchen to consult on the menu.
Two more Florida locations are in the works, and Shannon, whose mission is to bring this kind of accessible wholesome food to fast-paced families everywhere, hopes to open more, ideally thousands more, coast to coast. She cooks, greets, serves and is in the restaurant almost daily. Ray, who retired a 10-time All Star, two-time NBA Champ and Olympic Gold Medalist, has been making sandwiches behind the counter and their kids have bussed tables at busy times. With an exceptionally friendly staff of 66, Grown has more help than almost any place its size, but is devoted to being fast — really fast — and has been slammed since opening, with lines daily out the door from 11:30 a.m. to 3 p.m., serving more than a thousand guests a day.
“In this country if you want to eat burgers, fries, hot dogs, pizza or fried chicken, you are golden, you can get those things everywhere, without getting out of your car,” says Shannon. “But if you want wild caught salmon or drug-free natural meats without going to a fine dining restaurant, or have kids with special dietary needs, you are out of luck. It’s no judgment against fast food — I love fast food, I have five kids, I’ve driven around with the car seats, that’s why I’m doing this.
“I chose this location because it’s the busiest road in South Florida: 140,000 cars go by each day, and I always thought the busy mom would love it. My mission is making healthy, organic food easily accessible and affordable to busy people. Wholesome food can’t be a niche.”
Grown occupies a corner in one of many strip malls lining South Dixie Highway in South Miami, very close to the University of Miami campus. (They provide snacks three times a week to the school’s football team.) The Allens have converted a former Mexican eatery into an airy, high-ceilinged spot, its white tile walls covered with inspirational quotes by everyone from Oprah to Dr. Seuss, and outdoor seating can be merged with the indoor space by opening a glass paned garage door set in one wall. There is rustic wood barn board siding and flowers outside, while inside are pots of herbs, the restaurant name and logo in topiary, and a green plant tower climbing to the ceiling.
It has a warm feel, but is still unmistakably fast food, with drive-thru, order at the counter, food prepared on the other side of the glass in plain view, then served in carefully sourced recyclable and biodegradable lidded trays. The feel is more Au Bon Pain than Burger King, a slightly sophisticated take on the genre, and behind the counter is a visible fresh pressed juice station and large glass doored rotisserie where about a thousand free-range, drug free, organic chickens roast weekly.
In a few weeks Grown will hang its organic certification on the door, making it just the 10th restaurant in the entire country to achieve this status, which requires top to bottom compliance, including all farm vendors — even the ketchup and hot sauce on the counter are organic. They serve breakfast, lunch and dinner, in and to-go.
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SOURCE: USA Today