EVOS co-founder discusses being healthy before it was trendy

A healthy fast food concept might still be foreign to some – despite Subway's Jared-focused marketing campaign and McDonald's new, improved Happy Meals with apple slices.

But for Michael Jeffers, Alkis Crassas and Dino Lambridis, the all-American burgers, fries and shakes can be offered in a way that is actually good for you. They've been doing it since 1994.

The trio came up with the idea of EVOS after driving around one day looking for guiltless lunch options. Their search was fruitless.

"We saw a big gap in the marketplace. We wanted to recreate this food America is in love with, but make it healthier. We were up to the challenge," said Jeffers.

At the time, healthy fast food was nonexistent. Jared Fogle commercials didn't begin appearing until 2000 and the concept of "fast casual" was just starting to emerge. The void motivated the group; however their pace was purposefully slow.

"Going back to 1994, nobody was doing what we were doing. We didn't have anyone to copy, so we went through a lot of testing and development," Jeffers said. "We also took it slow because we are not strictly capitalists, we wanted to build an idea to live, eat and breathe a healthy lifestyle that is exemplified through our restaurants."

It wasn't easy to forge a new path. It took them six years to get where they were finally comfortable with the EVOS concept. Jeffers said their "true start date" was in 2000 because of this tedious process.

Concept's growth on the horizon

The company began franchising in late 2005. Now the EVOS chain is up to 10 locations in Florida, Georgia and North Carolina with plans for a slow and steady expansion with a mission of "offering America healthier fast food."

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Although the current stores are inline units operating between 1,900 and 2,400 square feet, EVOS is testing a nonconventional pilot unit on university campuses through a partnership with Aramark signed in February. Jeffers said the initial focus will be on the East Coast.

The company is also pursuing additional nonconventional opportunities in airports.

"We can't disclose who we're working with now, but we're excited about this opportunity. We think the nontraditional space is the direction the market is heading in. Consumers are looking for something healthier and tasty while they're on the go," Jeffers said.

He adds that the company has been approached by international interests, including the Middle East and Africa regions, but the conversations remain "very preliminary."

Changing the perception of 'healthy eating'

Health and nutrition has barreled into the spotlight within recent years, landing on the top trends list by the National Restaurant Association and other industry research firms. When EVOS was getting started, however, Jeffers said one of the biggest challenges was fighting the collective marketplace perception.

"Overcoming the idea that healthy (food) doesn't taste good was hard. But that has been changing dramatically throughout the years. Consumers are demanding healthier options now. We've really come a long way," he said.

EVOS' menu seems familiar in the QSR/fast casual space – burgers, fries, wraps, shakes. However, the burgers are made with naturally and humanely raised beef grilled to order. All other proteins – chicken, turkey, fish – are cooked through the company's proprietary Airbaking system.

"We don't have deep fryers in our restaurants. They're not allowed," Jeffers said.

Accordingly, the Airfries contain 50 to 70 percent less fat than traditional fries. Also, shakes are made with organic milk, fresh fruit and all-natural juice.

Embracing another trend: sustainability

EVOS' healthier fare isn't the only component of the company that was ahead of the trend curve. It is also a sustainability pioneer and has repeatedly been recognized as the "greenest" U.S. burger chain by Greenopia, a directory to help guide consumers looking to make environmental and socially-conscious purchases.

In its latest review released in March, Greenopia ranked EVOS as tops for numerous reasons.

"EVOS has done a lot to make its restaurants as green as possible. They sell a variety of organic and fair trade products which are both ecologically and socially responsible. EVOS has incorporated many elements of green building design into its locations including natural building materials, no-VOC paints, efficient fixtures, and recycled items as well. EVOS also uses recycled-content items for menus and to-go containers. Finally, EVOS purchases wind credits to offsets its energy footprint," the review read.

Jeffers said sustainability has been part of EVOS' DNA since its inception.

"It's who we are as individuals and we just translated that into our business model," he said. "It's very important to us and we're very proud of the way we've executed this."

EVOS also provides a school lunch program, serving about 2,000 kids a week in its home state of Florida.

"It's a win-win for kids because they're eating healthier and they learn how to keep eating healthy," Jeffers said. "It's just part of our goal to put healthy food in people's mouths."

Read more about health and nutrition and sustainability.

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User Comments – Give us your opinion!
  • Carla Yin
    Why is it necessary to kill cows, chickens, turkeys, fish..... for food? Haven't we seen enough evidence that meat causes all kinds of diseases in human beings? Do you know that God didn't create human beings to get sick, unless human beings do not follow the natural laws originally intended to put the right kind of food into their mouths. As you sew, so shall you reap. If we do not eat the correct food meant for human beings, getting sick is inevitable, natural and logical. Is this not easy to understand?

    As human beings, it's time to drop that piece of meat full of chemicals, hormones, the energies of pain, sorrow, resentment and fear that is in the animal's flesh that will forever attach to you. Because you are what you eat that you can't escape from what you have done.

    So it's time to take a look at what we have been eating to correct the incorrect eating habit, to eat the right food, and live and let live so that we can be healthy and forever have a peace of mind. As long as we kill for food, we can never ever have a true peace of mind that being sick is simply a reflection of our subconscious mind feeling guilty of taking others' lives in order for ourselves to live.

    So stop opening up more fast food burger joints, and if you can't let go of hamburgers, you can sell veggie burgers that is clean, wholesome, compassionate, and intelligent. Isn't that great to know that you didn't kill to enjoy a meal of delicious veggie burger? Do you know that it's not the meat itself that tastes good, but the seasonings, spices and cooking methods that make the it taste good? Everything is used to cover up the bloody taste of the flesh from animal.

    So why not make profits by doing something truly good and beneficial to mankind, instead of continuously feeding them with harmful substances, extremely negative energy and low vibrations, only to cause toxins generated in their body, and cause pain and sorrow in animals because they don't have a voice, and can't escape from human's superior intelligence that is used to capture, confine, abuse and murder them?

    You want to make profits with a peace of mind, not to continuously blindly kill to add more and more negative energy on daily basis. So come clean to do a wholesome business to get out of the meat industry, and do start study about how a vegan diet can benefit human health. The trend now is a vegan restaurant. Eating meat is already out of date as people's consciousness has been raised already that many have started to feel bad about eating meat. So do yourself, the society, and this planet a big favor, convert your meat restaurants into a vegan restaurants. You will be amazed how the vibrations can be changed because of it so that together we can evolve as the superior human species to decide our future for a positive growth.

  • Linda Hall
    I wrote about this chain years ago in a food trend presentation I put together for Kraft (2001 or 2002). I'm glad to see they're still going strong.
  • Carla Yin
    Going strong into hurting people's health at the expense of other beings' lives. Killing can never be an expression of love. When you love, you do not selectively love. You just love all beings to live and let live.

    There are many clinical studies showing that there are plenty of nutrients from plant sources that human beings are created to consume a plant-based diet, in fact, originally, do not even need to eat to live here as human being at that time lived by prana. It doesn't make sense that God created human beings to eat other beings that God created also that was never said anywhere in the Bible. If anything, that's just human's misunderstanding and distortion to legitimize their eating habit.

    But it definitely requires an open mind to realize that whatever we have been told and imposed on is not necessarily true or correct that is how a civilization can ever evolve - breaking up whatever is untrue and doesn't work to replace what really works. If the brain has been imposed with certain information since birth without a choice, it will take superior wisdom to be able to realize that it is not true to be able to use own judgment to explore and research to find the real truth. Otherwise, we can only create robotic mentality generation after generation making the same mistakes forever and always. Then what is the point of living and reincarnating on this planet? At the most, it's just to use ego to do anything everything to feel superior than anther ego when ultimately all die from diseases and sufferings from endless killing of each other.

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