LAKELAND — If you’re already struggling to maintain your “eat healthy” New Year’s resolution, there’s a new South Lakeland quick eatery that might be able to help.
SoFresh, billed as a healthy fast food concept based in Tampa, opened its Lakeland location Wednesday morning.
Clay Donato, the vice president of development for SoFresh, said the new location at 4756 S. Florida Ave. has been in development for about a year.
“I think the market has been looking for some healthy alternatives for a while,” Donato, 32, said. “There’s not a lot of options in this market for the kind of food we serve.”
More:Coming soon: Bartow finally gets an Aldi grocery store
The “fast casual fresh” eatery serves completely customizable bowls, salads, wraps and quesadillas. There is also a variety of protein options, including chicken, grass-fed steak and ahi tuna. There are vegetarian, vegan and gluten-free options.
“We use very high-quality proteins, which is somewhat unusual for the fast, casual space,” Donato said. “I think it’s always important in the market to have healthy alternatives, you know, while still serving quick.”
The franchise is owned by Kareem Mustafa, 38. While this is his first SoFresh franchise, Mustafa also owns two Dunkin’ Donuts locations in Lakeland. Once Mustafa had his first SoFresh taste, he was hooked.
“I was in Tampa, and I stopped in to try the food and I fell in love with the food and there was nothing like that in Lakeland,” Mustafa said. “I’ve been in Lakeland for about 10 years, and it’s real hard to find healthy food that’s made fresh everyday.”
The new SoFresh is located across from a shopping center containing a GreenWise and a HomeGoods and sits next to a Publix, all aspects that Donato says pulls at their family-oriented demographic.
About 10 minutes after SoFresh opened, five customers stood inside the small location, all masked. Mustafa said they had about 20 orders scheduled for pickup through their app before the 10:30 a.m. grand opening.
Donato, who has been with SoFresh for a year, said the company now relies more heavily on the app because of restrictions driven by the coronavirus pandemic. While pickup and takeout options are more popular, there is seating inside the restaurant, in addition to a few chairs and tables set up for outdoor dining.
While Donato and Mustafa think SoFresh is filling a niche for Lakeland, the market they occupy is growing. The health and wellness food market “is poised to grow by USD 234.94 during 2020-2024,” according to BusinessWire.
Donato said the last eight to 10 months have expedited that process, with people paying more attention to their lifestyle and what they put in their body during the quarantine period.
“I think the market has been trending toward healthier concepts over the last couple of years,” Donato said. “And I think the pandemic has started to expedite that even faster.”
More:Publix continues to show double-digit growth during pandemic
Mustafa said he hopes to open another SoFresh location within a year somewhere else in Polk County. He said North Lakeland, Davenport and Winter Haven are potential candidates.
“If you serve good product and you’ve got good customer service, and it’s a great experience, I think the word spreads pretty quickly,” Donato said. “We expect this to be a very successful location for us.”
Maya Lora can best be reached with tips or questions at [email protected] or 863-802-7558.