The Blue Zones Project’s mission is to help people live healthier lives and live longer, and restaurant owners are finding that the organization’s support, suggestions and stamp of approval are good for business.
For Shanti’s Indian Cuisine, which got the first Blue Zones Project approval in August, the owners have seen a 35 percent increase in sales according to their point of sale system data.
Manager and the owner’s daughter Shobana Randev said she knows the changes and the support made a difference because customers tell her so.
“We’re hoping to see this growth continue. Last January and February were horrible for us so we’re hoping the trend will continue because we’ve already seen great improvements,” Randev said. “For us, it started out as recognizing things that we were already doing to make our food healthy.”
Randev described her family’s restaurant food as “going back to the bare-bones” of homestyle Indian food.
“Indian food can go two ways — it can be healthy, homestyle food, or it can go greasy real quick. When we took over the restaurant, one of the things my mom wanted to implement was healthier options because that’s how our family has eaten.”
John Dimof who is the Organization Lead at the Blue Zones Project for the Umpqua Valley said the only way Randev’s mother, Ambika Randev, could describe the change is having to go from making two large pots of rice to three to keep up.
“They are seeing something they haven’t seen before,” Dimof said.
Dimof helped the Randev family take their healthy homestyle food to the next level with little changes that actually ended up saving the business money, like reducing or cutting the cream, butter and oils in some recipes.
One of the most recent additions to the approved restaurant list is Loggers Tap House owned by Sam Gross. For Gross, he hasn’t been able to quantify whether partnering with the organization has helped his business, but the Impossible Burger is his proof that people are pleased with the changes.
“It’s just flying off the shelves,” Gross said. “It’s a meat alternative that actually tastes like meat and people can’t get enough of it.”
For Loggers, Gross said he had to add a few things to the menu like “sides that aren’t fries,” and plant-based alternatives to meat and cheese-based menu items.
“Most of the changes are pretty subtle like having a whole wheat burger option available or vegan cheese options,” Gross said. “It wasn’t that big of a deal to buy a few more types of items so that we can substitute those in when the customers want it.”
Buried in the Hucrest neighborhood is Bluebird Pizza which was one of the first businesses approached by Blue Zones for practices owner Tami Webb had been implementing since the beginning.
“Pizza really has a bad rap for being a junk food but really it isn’t, at least here it isn’t,” Webb said. “We were doing that to begin with and didn’t realize the importance, just that it tasted better.”
Webb said within weeks of opening back in 2016, she had customers asking about vegan and gluten-free options so she listened and took advice from her customers to add those options. Since partnering with Blue Zones, she said she’s found even more options.
“Blue Zones helped us learn about soy and plant-based foods,” Webb said. “I wasn’t really aware of those, but now we have all these options that the customers just love. It’s just a trial and error. It costs a little more, of course, but we try to keep it affordable for our guests.”
Webb said she had a family come in a few months ago who had a variety of dietary needs including eating only eating vegan and gluten free. The family told Webb they had a hard time finding places where they could all eat and have options.
“We didn’t even realize all that we had to offer that we could offer to a family who all have different dietary needs — and not just the salad,” Webb said.
Webb works with Blue Zones beyond her own business and by being a co-chair on the restaurant and grocery committee.
“We don’t look at anybody as competition when it comes to that,” Webb said. “Everybody deserves healthy options no matter where they eat. It’s nice that we are able to work together and try to offer healthy options for everybody, not just in one location here or there.”