Grabbing a healthy meal on the go isn’t always easy. But PreventObesity.net Leader Anthony Leone is determined to change that.
Leone is the president of Energy Kitchen, a fast-food restaurant chain that boasts a menu in which every item contains less than 500 calories, from salads and wraps to burgers, fries and shakes. Everything is grilled, baked or steamed, and only low or no calorie beverages are offered.
Based in New York, Energy Kitchen is now expanding on the East Coast — the restaurant opened its first location in Washington, D.C., last week — and Leone and his team hope to reshape the entire fast-food landscape in the process.
“We’re fully transparent, which means we post all our calories, and we only have one serving size,” Leone says. “A lot of concepts out there are deceiving a little bit because they have three serving sizes. So you might see a plate in front of you that says 600 calories, but it’s really 1,200, and of course we eat the whole thing.”
The high calorie content and giant portion sizes offered on the menu at take-out and sit-down chain restaurants are considered among the driving forces of the obesity epidemic. Just last week, the Center for Science in the Public Interest unveiled its annual Xtreme Eating Awards, which “honored” the top unhealthy chain restaurant dishes of the year, including a shrimp pasta dish from the Cheesecake Factory that contains 3,120 calories.
Leone wants to change the norm so that it is easier to eat healthy (or at the very least, have options other than 3,000 calorie meals). He tells the Inside Track that when he first launched Energy Kitchen in 2003, he set out to create a place where customers “couldn’t make a wrong choice.”
The key, he found, was creating dishes that were both healthy and tasty.
“Each of the recipes was a process because the food has to be flavorful,” Leone explains. “We couldn’t be as successful as we are today if the food just did not taste good. Americans love their food, so we developed recipes that add taste but not calories.”
Leone wants Energy Kitchen to play a role in combating obesity, he says. A hospitality industry veteran, he was inspired to create the restaurant in New York after being frustrated about the lack of healthy options in the city. The concept took off, and there are now 11 Energy Kitchen locations in the city.
The company is now aiming to expand across the country, Leone says. Along with the D.C. location, Leone plans to open locations in New Jersey, Connecticut and Florida.
There’s a market, Leone adds, pointing to the questions he receives from New York tourists wanting to know when Energy Kitchen plans to come to their hometown.
Leone also is looking to open locations on college campuses, where he says informed undergraduate students are fueling a food revolution. “The college kids want healthier options on campus. So they’re asking the schools, and begging the schools for [healthy options], so the schools don’t really have any choice now,” Leone says.
Leone says he expects society at-large will soon follow suit. Menu labeling requirements implemented in New York in 2008 have helped people re-evaluate their dining choices, Leone says. As the federal government looks to implement similar regulations nationwide, the desire for healthy options only will increase, he adds.
And Leone hopes Energy Kitchen will be a part of the movement. “Any way we can make a change with society, in a positive direction, I would love to do,” he says.