When longtime friends Michelle Walrath and Fran Paniccia realized they couldn’t find a healthy place to eat while on the road with their kids in their Long Island neighborhoods, they didn’t just complain they did something about it.
“We came up with the idea almost spontaneously in a car ride out of frustration,” said Walrath in a phone interview with greaterportjeff.com.
Their idea quickly became reality and five years later the friends have a chain of organic restaurants called Organic Krush that they say offers something for everyone — if that thing you’re looking for is a 100% organic meal.
This fall, they will be bringing Organic Krush to Stony Brook in a new 2,000-square-foot space within the Stony Brook Square shopping center that is being built at 1111 Route 25a — less than a mile from Stony Brook University and across from the Stony Brook train station.
Organic Krush restaurants feature a menu that is GMO and pesticide-free, including bowls, salads, wraps and soups along with breakfast and bakery items, and their own line of cold-pressed juices. Everything is meticulously sourced, prepared fresh, or custom-made in their own 6,000-sqaure-foot certified production kitchen in Plainview and delivered to their stores.
The juices, salad dressings and bakery items are made in the production kitchen. Everything else is prepared in store.
Walrath and Paniccia developed their menu with the help of friend James Tchinnis, founding chef of Swallow East restaurant in Montauk. Tchinnis brought their vision to life, making fresh and healthy food that tastes delicious.
And if you’re thinking healthy eating on-the-go is just for breakfast or lunch, Walrath said it’s time to rethink that concept.
“From the very beginning we built it with the idea that any time of the day you should be able to get an organic meal,” she said.
A busy life doesn’t end at dinnertime, especially for parents of young children, so Organic Krush is providing a place for people to gather even in the evening to get the same quick-service healthy meals that is usually reserved for lunchtime.
The restaurant offers counter service where customers can build their own meals in a light airy and open floor plan. Organic Krush prides itself on transparency (ingredients for all their menu items are readily available for inspection) and the ability to serve a wide-variety of special dietary alternatives like Paleo or Keto diets.
“We are attached to a lifestyle,” said Walrath, who added that their menu is very customizable. “Guests can craft their meal for their experience.”
This lifestyle is something that Walrath and Paniccia have been dedicated to for years, although at first they weren’t too sure how marketable their idea might be.
“Cold-press juicing was a personal passion,” Walrath said. “I wasn’t sure how that would be received six years ago on Long Island.”
She noted that at the time she found it hard to find a place to get cold-pressed juices like the ones they now make for Organic Krush customers.
“The great news is that Long Island was really ready for something like this.”
Organic Krush has hewed close to that concept.
“We did feel very strongly — having stayed close to the food movement — that it is almost easier to commit to 100% organic than saying some things will be organic and others not,” Walrath said. “No matter what we were going to source organic and GMO free.”
The idea has worked out. From the original location in Woodbury, they now have six restaurants (one is in Richmond, Va. where Walrath went to college and where she plans to open an on-campus location). In addition to Stony Brook, they are also opening another in Westport, Conn.
The original plan wasn’t to open all of these locations. Walrath and Paniccia just wanted a place in their hometown to get good organic food for their family.
“It was a selfish move on our part,” joked Walrath.
But that changed when people started requesting Organic Krush open stores in their towns too. People were travelling near and far to get Organic Krush.
Requests from Suffolk residents — especially the Stony Brook area — inspired them to get a foothold in a community that treasured the type of healthy food Organic Krush offered.
“We were getting a bunch of requests to come out there,” she said. “We found people were driving from Stony Brook to Woodbury.”
They also have a seasonal location in Amagansett.
Walrath said that they hope to begin construction on the Stony Brook site very soon and plan to be open by fall.
The Stony Brook restaurant will seat around 25 people, with big family-dining tables where people can come to hang out. They have groups who stay and hold networking meetings in their restaurants and families who come in with kids to spend time — the restaurant offers some games for the kids to play with while the parents eat and chat.
“It’s a diverse crowd,” Walrath said.
Half of their business is from patrons who eat in the store and half is take-out.
This location will also offer a feature they have been incorporating into their new stores, serving organic wine and beer in the evenings and for Sunday brunch.
Originally, Organic Krush went by another name but unknown to the founders it ended up being a little too close to an established restaurant so after receiving a cease and desist order they had to come up with something different.
They knew the word organic had to be a part of the marketing and they spent a month on branding exercises to come up with an appropriate name that reflected the lifestyle of their customers. Krush came from both the way they made their juices (crushing the fruits and vegetables) and their love of what they do.
“We developed a loving relationship with our guests early on,” Walrath said. “We just had a crush on our customers.”
Scroll down to see photos of Organic Krush’s Planview location (courtesy).
Top: Organic Krush’s Michelle Walrath (left)and Fran Paniccia (right)