Austin residents looking for a healthier alternative to greasy-spoon burger joints and fast-food chains may find it in a new Madison Street restaurant.
Quench, the Experience, 5815 W. Madison, touts itself as a “fast-casual,” sit-down restaurant, substituting traditional beef and pork dishes with fish, chicken and vegetables. Part of a larger chain of fast-casual eateries, it’s scheduled to open in Austin on Aug. 25.
Founder and co-owner Quentin Love says the restaurant is for people who want to eat healthy by limiting their beef and pork intake. His calls those who flirt with becoming a vegetarian but still have carnivore cravings “transitional eaters.”
“They may go cold turkey for a minute; then they ease back into this realm of ‘I eat a little chicken. I eat mostly fish.’ Then you see them at the rib spot getting a slab of ribs.
“Everybody goes through those dimensions from time to time,” Love added, “but people mainly stay in a certain pocket-and that is chicken, turkey, fish and a little bit of vegetarian here and there.”
Coming to the West Side was a natural progression for the chain, he says. The Austin restaurant is the seventh under Love’s I Love Food Group, a consortium of fast-casual eateries that cater to urban communities.
Blacks are becoming more health-conscious by giving up red meat, added Shawn Taylor, the restaurant’s co-owner. Still, too many black communities, according to the Quench chain, are in “food deserts”-communities lacking full-line grocery stores, but are overrun with fast-food chains.
Since many blacks live in food deserts, they have limited choices to eat healthy.
“It’s pretty much the same type of diet over and over again-food that is really high in calories [and] cooked in a lot of lard and fat,” said Taylor. “People are looking for healthier choices in the neighborhood.”
Quench, the Experience gives residents that choice, the owners stress. The Quench brand has a huge West Side following, said Love, with 75 percent of his catering business from West Side clients. Love opened his first restaurant in 2002 and has locations on the South Side. However, the Austin restaurant is the first in the Quench franchise to offer breakfast, lunch and dinner. Many of Love’s restaurants are carry-outs.
He is also using the Austin community as a test market for new menu items like his chicken Caesar salad sandwich made with homemade Caesar dressing.
“The Austin community is getting the best of the actual group,” said Love, who established the sit-down restaurants because black communities lack healthier options.
The restaurant, however, will bring some of Quench’s familiar staples to the West Side, including its famed turkey burgers, turkey tacos, fresh cut fries and spinach pizza puffs. Menu items run from $5-$12. Head chef Shango Butler, an Austin native, uses different homemade spices and fresh ingredients to create dishes like jerk chicken, parmesan-crusted tilapia, salmon in lemon-garlic sauce and mixed roasted vegetables.
“We put a lot of effort and pizzazz in our food,” said Love. “It’s not a typical soul food place.”
Taylor and Love also want to turn the Austin restaurant into a destination spot, offering open mike nights and jazz performances. The walls will be decorated with artwork from local artists. By next summer, Love hopes to convert the restaurant’s backyard into a patio.
Taylor believes that personal touch gives the restaurant a sense of community-something most fast-food joints lack.
“Occasionally, some of these chains will put up civil rights pictures or Negro League pictures to make it feel at home, but … it doesn’t really have a personality,” she said.
Taylor, a foodie at heart who always dreamed of opening a restaurant, was working with a financial broker, who introduced her to Love. She was familiar with his restaurants and jumped at the chance to partner with him.
“I really liked his vision for Quench,” she said. “To me it has a mission attached to it.”
Part of the mission is to impact African-Americans’ health. According to the American Diabetes Association, approximately 2.7 million of blacks age 20 years and older, or 11.4 percent, have diabetes. Additionally, the American Obesity Association noted that 78 percent of black women are overweight while nearly 51 percent are considered obese.
To promote healthy eating habits, Love has established “Cool Children Cook,” through his Love Foundation, the group’s philanthropic arm. The program will teach children how to cook healthier meals at home, a trait Love and Taylor hope will rub off on the parents.
“A lot of times, it’s young people that can really inspire change in adults,” Taylor said.
The Enterprize Zone is an Austin Weekly News regular feature highlighting business stories in the community.