Of all the things that happen when you’re a kid, the memory of gorging on candy and soda one day—and feeling like like sh*t after—stuck with Jeremy Bringardner. The experience became the early harbinger for his role as the executive chef of Lyfe Kitchen, a popular healthy, fast-casual chain, now with 14 stores nationally, and a brand new location in New York City, which opened on Monday.
“I realized that making a bad food choice negatively impacted my quality of life,” he says (very thoughtfully for a then 12-year-old). It led to a lifelong journey of being obsessed with that, he says. Bringardner eventually went to culinary school, worked alongside chef luminaries like Charlie Trotter, and got a degree in nutrition. And now, he wants to feed you in the most nourishing and delish way, so you don’t crash like a kid on a sugar high either.
The affordable fast-casual chain was started in 2011 by a former McDonald’s exec, and pedigreed healthy chefs Art Smith (Oprah’s former go-to) and Tal Ronnen (Ellen Degeneres’ vegan guru). It’s grown with the healthy eating revolution—rapidly expanding across California and the West Coast, and landing now in New York with their new Midtown spot (and first East Coast location).
“It’s everyday foods, but done with the consideration for nutrition,” Bringardner says. And taste. “You don’t have to sacrifice taste to eat better,” he adds.
We checked it out before Lyfe came to be. Here’s what you need to know before you stop by for lunch—or a glass of chia water.
If you work in Midtown West, this could easily become your new healthy lunch habit. The menu includes a mix of salads, sandwiches, flatbreads, smoothies, and entrees like an “Unfried” Chicken (it’s baked, and served with roasted Brussels sprouts and butternut squash, cranberries, and Dijon vinaigrette), Fish Tacos (grilled mahi with chayote slaw and avocado), and a Thai Red Curry Bowl (broccoli, eggplant, peppers, peas, and wheatberries, in a coconut curry sauce). The food is fresh and flavorful like a Hu Kitchen or Sweetgreen, but not quite as seasonal as Dig Inn.
Bringardner oversees the menu at all 14 locations (he’s also a winner of Food Network’s Chopped) and incorporates a few seasonal dishes every six months. (Lyfe tried to swap the Brussels sprouts with cauliflower over the summer and people revolted, he says.) Some seasonal items right now include an Apple Chia Water, Pumpkin Budino, and Shishito Pepper Pizza.
Many lunch items are under $10, meaning you can eat a chef-designed flatbread, wrap, or salad, without a total financial meltdown. The smoothies, at $4.99, feel like a bargain. To do this, Lyfe isn’t 100 percent organic. “We can’t afford to do that because then we wouldn’t be accessible to the masses,” Bringardner says about the brand priority. Instead Lyfe picks and chooses—organic apples and strawberries, for example, but traditional bananas and avocados.
The two-story restaurant is bright, with natural light and big windows in the front and back. A living herb wall, a nice touch in all Lyfe locations, emphasizes the restaurant ethos. (Though the herbs aren’t actually used in the cooking process, Bringardner explains.) There’s seating for 130, though the front of the space seems a little small, almost as if it was designed by those who’ve never experienced a New York City lunch hour rush. We’re not architects, but given the healthy (and yummy) menu, there could be a great big daily bottleneck at noon. —Molly Gallagher
Lyfe Kitchen, 248 West 55th Street, btwn. Eighth Avenue and Broadway, Midtown, www.lyfekitchen.com