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A fast-casual concept with Canadian roots and locations across North America, freshii is growing in the Garden State as well. In recent years, a few entrepreneurial NJ residents have opened freshii locations in Middletown, New Brunswick, and Morris Plains. Next up: A new freshii location is coming to Newark. The JerseyBites editorial team got the chance to catch up with one of the first Jersey people to open a freshii location.
freshii Opens in New Jersey
In March 2019, Joan and Kevin O’Hear opened a freshii in Middletown, NJ. Joan prefers to stay behind the scenes — working on bookkeeping and marketing efforts. On the other end, Kevin is the customer-facing ringleader of this freshii institution.
Everything is made fresh to order. freshii offers a range of bowls, salads, wraps, burritos, juices, all with a health-first focus. Individuals who are gluten free, vegan, vegetarian can order comfortably at freshii. And those who practice a ketogenic or paleo diet for allergy-related or personal preferences will also find options to enjoy.
Kevin O’Hear discusses the crowd pleasers, as well as his own favorites from the menu. “As far as bowls go, the Teriyaki Twist is really popular, along with our burritos, and seasonal specials right now,” he said. “For the most part we have one consistent menu, and that’s the beauty of a franchise — makes it easy for ordering. My personal favorite is the market salad, but this new sesame crunch salad is the bomb too.”
Making Tasty, Healthy Eating More Accessible
The menu remains consistent from location to the next. Owners receive an outline of combinations that freshii chefs believe to be the best choices. The bowls, salads, burritos, and wraps are all listed on the menu without proteins.
From there, customers can choose the sort of customization they prefer when ordering their Pangoa Burrito, for example. Protein options include chicken, steak, tofu, falafel, and hard-boiled eggs. This menu concept makes for simple substitutions or the easy removal of ingredients.
O’Hear told us about one newer popular pick. “The Spicy Buffalo bowl or burrito has been a hit with brown rice, romaine, aged cheddar, jalapenos, tomatoes, carrots, crispy wontons, hot sauce, Greek yogurt ranch dressing, and the customer’s choice of chicken, steak, tofu, or falafel.”
The Middletown freshii store as well as the locations in Morris Plains and New Brunswick now offer (for a limited time) a creamy roasted tomato soup, as well as pockets like the bacon and cheddar melt, the Buffalo chicken, and the Tuscan Veggii.
Stumbling Upon a Life-Changing Opportunity
The appeal of freshii’s concept is a clear combo feel-good food options and invigorating, colorful plates with real health benefits. This is what drew the O’Hears and their family to eat their first freshii meal, several years back.
“Eight years ago, I hopped off a bus and it happened to be in front of a freshii,” Kevin recalls. “I was in software sales, racking up a million miles while flying and traveling to meet with clients.”
When he finally decided that he’d had enough of his sales career, the freshii concept made sense. The O’Hears jumped at the freshii franchise opportunity as it related closely to Kevin’s personal experience of eating fast food on the go. And more importantly, the menu catered well to their son’s dietary restrictions.
Joan said, “My son is celiac and there weren’t many gluten-free options at that time,” he said. “For a 10 year old back then, it wasn’t much fun to eat out. But we went there and loved it. My son’s been diagnosed for 18 years now and we’re very familiar with his allergy restrictions.”
Catering: An Integral Part of the Business
The freshii concept includes catering. This element of the business has flourished in people- and business-heavy Northern New Jersey.
“We do a lot of catering,” Kevin said. “It’s a great alternative for businesses ordering lunch, for example. We are positioned in between two hospitals and our concept aligns with doctors’ offices.”
“We’ll have sales reps call in to have us deliver — we understand that it’s a nice change-up from the usual of pizza and subs for lunch. We send over 20 individual lunches with proteins on the side so everyone can decide whether they want chicken, steak, tofu, or falafel. Offices really like that they can feed everyone and make each person happy.”
With just over 300 locations in North America, freshii is stacking brand recognition in places like Florida and Texas. And New Jersey is the latest state to board the freshii Express. The current freshii franchises in NJ are working with the Canadian brand to expand throughout the Garden State.
In November, the freshii corporation came to an agreement that will bring six new locations to NJ, according to NJBIZ. What’s more, it seems these business owners are working together to grow the brand in Jersey. In fact, NJ franchisees have a joint contract to promote the brand as well as each individual business as they open throughout the Garden State.
Meet a Few of the Owners
Frank Stuto, of Monroe Township, is the owner/operator of the New Brunswick location. As an early adopter of the freshii brand, the 29 year old has found success since opening around key companies and institutions like Johnson & Johnson, Robert Wood Johnson, and Rutgers University.
The New Brunswick freshii also receives customers from events at the Heldrich and Hyatt hotels as well as regular business from residents in apartments above and around the New Brunswick store. Stuto plans to look to the current and upcoming freshii locations throughout NJ to continue the growth of his own store — and the brand as a whole.
Stuto also cares about it from a family perspective. “I have a personal connection with freshii after my father’s passing from pancreatic cancer,” he said. “I think a lot more about my health and wellness now. freshii was the perfect fit. The company has a health focus as its mission statement.”
“For us, customer service is a top priority,” Stuto said. “Coming in to see us, you can always expect to be greeted with a smile and leave with a great experience. I’ve also got great employees like our assistant manager, Bo Kim. Our guests can’t miss her — she greets them all with excitement and energy.”
Aside from the O’Hears’ location in Middletown and Stuto’s location in New Brunswick, brothers Greg and Ryan Lahr opened another freshii in Morris Plains, with plans for more soon.
Back in 2019, Greg Lahr opened his first freshii location in Morris Plains, NJ. Now he and his brother, Ryan, are building out a brand new location in Newark, NJ. The new location is expected to open this winter, across from the Prudential Center.
838 Route 35
Morris Plains, NJ
131 Neilson Street
New Brunswick, NJ