Today, Oprah added a restaurant to her investment portfolio. True Food Kitchen announced that the Queen of All Media made a “significant equity investment” in the health food restaurant chain.
The move isn’t a complete surprise, given Oprah’s previous millions-making investment in diet program Weight Watchers. She also has her own line of prepared foods called O That’s Good!, which she advertises as “comfort-food classics” with a “nutritious twist.” Her latest investment is likely to be a boon for the restaurant brand — Oprah endorsements have impact, so much so that “The Oprah Effect” is a real finance term.
With Oprah’s investment, True Food Kitchen plans to accelerate its expansion, with a focus on the East Coast. But although True Food Kitchen seems poised to become the next big restaurant chain, those without a restaurant in their area probably haven’t heard much about it. Here’s everything you need to know about Oprah’s newest favorite thing:
What is True Food Kitchen?
True Food Kitchen is a health-focused restaurant chain with 23 locations in 10 U.S. states, with most locations in California and Texas. It focuses on serving healthy, seasonal, sustainable, and organic food with plenty of vegan, vegetarian, and gluten-free options. The restaurants are casual, full-service venues open for lunch, dinner, and weekend brunch, a style the restaurant bills “conscious casual.” More specifically, True Food Kitchen serves food in line with an “anti-inflammatory” diet. (The restaurant’s health claims have drawn criticism.)
Where did it come from?
Integrative medicine doctor Andrew Weil opened the first True Food Kitchen with restaurateur Sam Fox in Phoenix, Arizona in 2008. The idea was to promote Dr. Weil’s “anti-inflammatory” lifestyle with a restaurant, and the menu was designed to adhere to his “anti-inflammatory food pyramid,” which he’s proselytized on the show of fellow Oprah-affiliated integrative medicine doctor, Dr. Oz.
True Food Kitchen is a part of a universe of Weil-created products: He also sells cookbooks, vitamins, meditation CDs, and more as a part of a philosophy he claims reduces the risk of heart disease, cancer, Alzheimer’s disease, and other ailments.
Dr. Weil is still attached to the restaurant brand, but in 2016, True Food Kitchen spun off from Fox Restaurant Concepts and hired Starbucks vet Christine Barone as CEO. In the years since, True Food Kitchen has expanded from 12 locations to 23 and has plans to double that number over the next three years.
What’s on the menu?
Although it prioritizes vegetables, fish, and whole grains, as per Dr. Weil’s anti-inflammatory food pyramid, True Food Kitchen’s menu is intended to reach a broad audience, and the menu at any given location can span more than 30 dishes for dinner. “We’re really going after a wide range of guests,” Barone says.
The menu doesn’t stick to any one flavor profile. “There are both Mediterranean elements and lots of Asian food, especially ingredients from Japanese cuisine. It’s a mix of the two healthiest food cultures in the world,” Dr. Weil said on his website’s blog when the first True Food Kitchen opened. Today, there are bowls, pizzas, burgers, sandwiches, and entrees that for this spring included a poke bowl, Moroccan chicken, and gluten-free lasagna bolognese.
True Food Kitchen also serves sustainable wine, local beer, and cocktails with fresh juice and house-made syrups — a feature Barone believes sets True Food Kitchen apart from other restaurants in the health food space. (Alcohol isn’t off limits on Dr. Weil’s anti-inflammatory diet, and red wine is even encouraged.) “You really can come to True Food and enjoy a complete meal,” she says. There’s also a wide selection of tea, another key anti-inflammatory beverage according to Dr. Weil’s philosophy.
According to Barone, almost 10 years after opening, True Food Kitchen’s menu still has some of Dr. Weil’s original recipes, and he continues to be actively involved in menu development by suggesting ingredients, like black rice, which is included in a dessert on the just-launched summer menu.
What does Oprah’s investment mean for the brand?
In addition to her financial investment, Oprah will join True Food Kitchen’s board of directors. “We believe this really sets us up for great success,” Barone says. “It’s not only a partnership from a financial point of view, but it’s also a partnership where she as a great business woman will be lending her thoughts on the market and how we evolve.”
In the coming years, True Food Kitchen will open its first locations in New York, New Jersey, and North Carolina, and expand its presence in Florida and Maryland. Already, True Food Kitchen is in the process of opening two new restaurants, one in Nashville and another in Jacksonville, Florida, both set to open before the end of the year.
True Food Kitchen is also sure to fit seamlessly into Oprah’s personal brand. Like Weight Watchers, the restaurant presents consumers with a healthy lifestyle that’s easily attainable, just so long as they buy the right foods. Plus, Dr. Weil and Oprah go way back — he made an appearance on the Oprah Winfrey Show in 2000, and while that may not have launched him to Dr. Oz levels of fame, this new partnership could make True Food Kitchen an even bigger name.