Healthier Eating Becomes a Habit

Buddakan, in New York City, had sales topping $21 million in 2014.
Buddakan, in New York City, had sales topping $21 million in 2014. Starr Restauarant Group

He had me at “sexy restaurant serving healthy food.”

Actually, Stephen Starr had my attention even earlier, when he described the anticlimactic feeling that comes with opening a restaurant. It was the day before the Continental opened in Miami and already he was thinking of what would come next.

Like most creative visionaries, Starr talks in circles—constantly connecting real and imaginary dots between past, present, and potential future. As he talked about his early career in entertainment, the music revolution of the ’60s, and the comedy revolution of the ’80s, I began to think about the food revolution.

What began as an obsessive fascination with celebrity chefs and exotic foods elevated into somewhat of a social revolution when the focus expanded to serious challenges with the global food supply and impacts on sustainability. Now, the subject of food is acquiring an even broader social consciousness.

Health and hunger—two of the greatest social challenges of our time—are increasingly part of the conversations we have about food and the restaurant industry. When Starr suggested one significant movement underway is a commitment to serving healthy foods, he was preaching to the choir. That’s a topic that comes up more often than not in interviews, and it’s one we discuss frequently in our offices. In fact, last year Food News Media (parent company of FSR and our sister publication QSR) introduced the HALO awards to recognize restaurants that have made positive contributions to healthy and active consumer lifestyles—serving healthier foods is a huge part of that recognition.

On a purely personal level, I could absolutely mount a soapbox to rant for healthier, inventive vegetarian fare. Even those of us who aren’t exclusively vegetarian find it disappointing when the only veggie options on a menu are found in the Salads or Sides sections. That, too, is changing—as illustrated in the story about vegetarian wine pairings (page 27) and the feature about protein alternatives (page 48).

Although he declined to divulge specifics about the restaurant he plans to open next spring in New York City, Starr stressed that restaurants should be fun and that dining out should be entertainment. “I’m kind of looking for an alternate entertainment option to food,” he says. “I’d love to do a cabaret—with sort of old-time music, performed by young, aspiring Broadway actors and actresses in a cabaret forum where they are doing Cole Porter and Gershwin—all those songs from the ’30s and ’40s—with light food and great cocktails.”

The question now: Will that spring opening in New York City be a sexy restaurant serving healthy food, a cabaret, or something totally unexpected?

Rock on, Mr. Starr!

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