After 14 years and eight locations, with a ninth on the way, the Health Nut Cafe has changed its name to Bee Healthy Cafe.
Founders Cindy and Amir Alavi and company Chief Executive Officer Cody Pepper announced the change last week along with plans to switch from sole ownership to a franchise-ownership model.
“We know that market research tells us that owners do 15% to 30% better in revenue,” Pepper said. “We thought putting the owner directly in line with the guests, helped us hit our goals better. That’s why franchising is our right path to a healthy future.”
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None of these changes will affect the menu, which is a procession of healthy bowls, wraps, sandwiches, salads, smoothies, coffees and teas.
“Bee Healthy Cafe underscores our journey,” Amir Alavi said. “Now we say we are the health nuts so you don’t have to be — you can just come in and be healthy.”
Promise turned business
A few years after graduating from the University of Oklahoma, the couple embarked on a fateful bike ride cut short when Cindy complained of not feeling well. A visit to the doctor ended with a life-changing diagnosis: multiple sclerosis.
“When Cindy became ill in 2007, we essentially became health nuts,” Amir said. “Our diet was the one thing we could control in fighting this disease. So we made a commitment, and that’s where the original name came from.”
Alavi said he had already adopted a vegetarian lifestyle in 1995, but his wife’s illness made healthy dining options Priority One.
“Multiple sclerosis is an autoimmune disorder,” he said. “It makes the body work extra hard, so eating the right foods helps your body in the fight.”
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Cindy’s health today is vastly improved.
“My wife is doing well. She is healthy. She has the regular struggles of someone that lives with multiple sclerosis. She deals with fatigue and she deals with flare ups from time to time,” Alavi said. “But in general she is in exceptionally good health because she does such a great job taking care of herself.”
To make that easier, the Amir and Cindy changed career courses in 2007 and by December had opened the first Health Nut Cafe.
Back in the game
Though he was an art student at OU and spent four years as a staff photographer for the OU Daily, Amir Alavi’s primary work experience in 2007 came from restaurants.
When his family fled to the U.S. from Iran during the Gulf War, Amir was 11 years old. His father first opened convenience stores before turning to restaurants.
“One of the places he bought was a Big Ed’s,” Amir recalled. “He said, ‘You know it’s very expensive to buy a new sign, let’s just take off the ‘E’ and call it Big D’s'”
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Shortly after getting the news about Cindy’s health, Amir approached his father about a loan to launch a restaurant with a simple, healthy menu highlighted by fresh ingredients.
Amir said today’s menu has evolved.
“As we progressed, we started looking for ingredients or for items that would contribute to our health and well-being,” he said. “We started looking for super foods. We started to look for combinations of foods that make better foods together.”
Ordering today begins with choosing a flavor profile (Caesar, Terlingua, pecan chicken) then deciding whether you want it as a wrap, quinoa bowl, sandwich, salad or melt. Each entree comes with a side, and smoothies are available in more than 10 varieties. A full coffee program backed by house-roasted beans is available along with water and small-batch tea.
When Cody Pepper arrived two years ago, the idea was to expand what is now Bee Healthy Cafe without losing core principles.
Before offering franchises to the public, they had to expand outside their downtown comfort zone, opening stores in Edmond and south Oklahoma City. Location No. 9 is currently under construction inside OU’s Headington Hall.
The south location opened in April 2020, the same day the general COVID-19 lockdown was announced.
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However, the south store came with something no other Bee Healthy Cafe location has to this day: a drive-thru.
“It saved our business,” Alavi said. “Those were some dark days, wondering what to do. But that store was working so we just started sending people down there while we figured it out.”
It wasn’t long before online ordering and curbside delivery models for all the locations were developed, and a record-breaking year commenced despite COVID-19.
The company resumed its expansion plans in September by opening in Del City with the first fully branded Bee Healthy Cafe.
“We didn’t open with a lot of fanfare. We just wanted to see how it would perform with the new name,” Pepper said. “Response has been great, we’ve already got some everyday regulars.”
In July, the American College of Sports Medicine released a study showing, of the top 100 large cities in America, Oklahoma City ranked unhealthiest. Pepper, who regularly runs in marathons, took it personally.
“We decided that was actually a call to action,” Pepper said. “People want to be healthy here, but being healthy is hard.”
Pepper said Bee Healthy Cafe provides affordable options for folks who would like to help turn the trend around, but the company took it a step further.
“We wanted to do something about it by anchoring our support center in downtown Oklahoma City so that we could put our money where our mouth was and really start to do something by being advocates, starting with the food, but also to start impacting the lifestyle … as well as connecting people.”
Pepper said future locations will have more to do with people than markets.
“We’re not going to try to penetrate a market and do mass development around a market, but we’re going to try to grow around the right people.” he said.
To see the full menu or to inquire about a franchise go online to BeeHealthyCafe.com