Mediterranean Diet Fuels Growth for Zoës Kitchen

Mediterranean Diet Fuels Growth for Zoës Kitchen By: Anita Jones-Mueller, President, HEALTHY DINING
June 16, 2014

Anita Jones-Mueller (AJM), President of Healthy Dining, interviews Rachel Phillips-Luther (RPL), Vice President of Marketing for Zoës Kitchen:

 Rachel, I’m so excited to hear more about Zoës Kitchen and your focus on the Mediterranean style of eating!

The Mediterranean diet is receiving rave reviews from respected health organizations and nutrition advocates. I like to refer to it as a way of eating and not a diet, because it really emphasizes healthy eating and a wide variety of nutrient-rich foods. Recent research has shown that the Mediterranean diet has some great short and long term health benefits. In fact, a large research study following more than 1.5 million adults showed that a Mediterranean diet was associated with reduced risks of heart disease, cancer, Parkinson's and Alzheimer's diseases. So it is definitely THE eating style for overall health and well-being.

I know Zoës is very innovative in focusing on the Mediterranean way of eating in all that you do, so tell us about that.

 Yes, Americans are discovering the Mediterranean diet and its health related benefits. At Zoës Kitchen, which is a high growth, fast casual restaurant concept, we pride ourselves on providing a distinct menu of wholesome, Mediterranean-inspired dishes. This concept began with our founder, Zoë Cassimus, whose family was from the Mediterranean. She inspired our menu through her family recipes, which are rich in tradition and symbolize the deep appreciation for nutritious food that you’ll find in the Mediterranean countries.

What makes the Mediterranean diet so great is that it emphasizes simple and fresh ingredients that are full of flavor, and at Zoës Kitchen, we do just that. We deliver goodness to our customers by providing nutritious, high-quality, made from scratch menu items that make them feel great from the inside out. Our menu items consist of an abundance of fresh produce and lean proteins that are predominantly preservative and additive-free. Therefore, we feel it’s not about restriction but instead, bringing back the enjoyment of eating.

We recently introduced guests to “Live Mediterranean”—our focus is to help guests understand all the ways you can incorporate Mediterranean traditions in life. Specifically we’re sharing how this can be beneficial to health and general wellness. And although our focus is on food, we took it a bit further and leaned on four pillars that celebrate rich Mediterranean traditions.

AJM: Tell us about the four pillars and how they are important to your guests.

RPL: The four pillars are EAT, COOK, CONNECT and LIVE. EAT focuses on the tasty, fresh foods that Zoës serves so that our guests can feel naturally their best. The second pillar is COOK. We provide our guests with great recipes, which can be found on our website at Additionally, our ‘Fresh Takes’ make it easy for families to pick up ingredients at Zoës Kitchen, prepared from scratch in our kitchen, and then put the meal together at home. The third pillar is CONNECT, which is all about gathering around the table and celebrating the meal with family and friends. Our founder believes that shared meals build a sense of unity and tradition, and we want to share that with our guests.

And the last pillar is LIVE. Live encourages and reminds people to live life to the fullest. Enjoy every moment and make choices that support an active lifestyle while enjoying good quality foods made with fresh and wholesome ingredients. 

AJM: I really love that philosophy. It’s refreshing to know that there are alternatives to the hurried American way of life. How do your guests respond to your four pillars?

RPL: Our marketing and education efforts just reinforce what our guests tell us... When they eat at Zoës Kitchen they say, “I love how I feel when I eat here.” They feel good when they leave because they made a choice that is light, fresh and real, and in addition, they fuel their bodies with all the right wholesome ingredients. We create an emotional connection that goes beyond enjoying great food and from what they share with us, we know we are making a difference in their lives. 

AJM: Tell us about your guests.

RPL: Our brand delivers on our customer’s desire for freshly-prepared food, convenience, unique and high-quality experiences and their passion for life. So while our guests are varied, we find that almost 70% are women and many identify with being called “mom.” They are busy women and families, and they aspire to be their best and enjoy all life offers, including raising their families in the best possible manner and feeding them the right things. They enjoy dining at a table in the restaurant, choose “Fresh Takes” items from the cooler to prepare at home or order one of our Mediterranean Family meals and celebrate “we time” around their kitchen table. It gives them back the time they crave to spend engaging with the ones they love. We also find our guests are very appreciative that we don’t have microwaves or fryers at Zoës!

AJM: Yes, those traits are becoming really important to a lot of people. And the Mediterranean cuisine makes it easy to focus on healthy ingredients. I love your Quinoa Salad. What are some of your best sellers?

RPL: Yes, we launched the Quinoa Salad about a year ago, and our guests love it. Our chicken kabobs are another favorite. They are so moist and easy to eat, and they are served with your choice of fresh sides and pita bread. And we have salmon, shrimp and beef kabobs, so there is something for everyone. Our guests also really like the orzo-tabouli salad. It has baby spinach, mixed greens, tomatoes, feta cheese and lemon vinaigrette. And, of course, the pita sandwiches are guests’ favorites. We prepare everything from scratch, so we can customize meals and offer gluten-free, vegan and vegetarian items.

AJM: I love the Mediterranean Tuna Pita Sandwich at Zoës. No mayo, and all the flavor comes from the albacore, capers, olives and onions. It is really great! How about your kids’ menu?

RPL: We have a varied kids’ menu, although we see a lot of families order several items from our core menu and share them. Kids love the hummus and pita, quinoa salad and kabobs. I’m a mom of four, and it makes me happy and excited to see that parents are rising to the challenge and forming healthy habits when their kids are young. It is also great to see younger children enjoying Mediterranean foods. I love watching my two year old, Jack, eat quinoa and hummus. Kids’ palates are changing; they are more sophisticated now. We will be reinventing our kids’ menu in the future and will be looking at ways we can incorporate more full-flavor items that kiddos will love.

AJM: That’s great. Four kids. How old are they?

RPL: Two, five, fourteen and sixteen. All boys!

AJM: Oh wow! You are a busy mom!

RPL: I am. And it’s funny. Even before I joined the Zoës Kitchen team, Zoës was an important part of my life for so many reasons. It meets my needs, and every day I strive to make memories for my kids that they’ll cherish and teach them that each of us can be the change. I always want to prepare a great meal for my family that we can enjoy together, but after a 12 hour day, it often not a reality. With our kids’ sports and our jobs, I’m so thankful I can stop at Zoës, grab a family meal to go and know I am feeding my family well. And others can easily do the same. With more than 119 locations in 15 states we’re making it easy for all busy moms to get the time back they crave to spend with their families and not compromise what they’re feeding them!

AJM: Yes, I find it very hard to make dinner every night for my family, so it is important to have quick healthy choices to eat out or take home.

RPL: Yes, it is super helpful for moms but also anyone that craves convenient, wholesome meals at a compelling value. This is more than a trend- people are looking to become their best and this is why we are excited to partner with Healthy Dining and Kids LiveWell. We share the same mission of encouraging people to live a healthier lifestyle, eating well and nourishing your body for good health. And like I said earlier, as a mom, I take pride in the food I’m putting in my family’s mouth and with the Kids LiveWell Program, parents can easily find healthy choices when eating out and in turn, contribute to enhancing the health of our nation’s children.

In addition to being a restaurant where people can feel good about eating, our guests really appreciate that every item is made to order, and that makes it easier for those with food allergies. We also do not have any nut products – that is a conscious decision so that we can serve those with nut allergies as well.

AJM: That is great! The number of children with nut allergies has tripled in the last ten years. So I really admire Zoës for meeting the needs of those who find dining out nearly impossible. Congratulations on making that commitment. And congratulations on all the ways that Zoës Kitchen is contributing to creating a healthier America. We are thrilled to have you as a partner on HealthyDiningFinder.