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Local eateries increase vegan options and their bottom lines through Blue Zones

May 20, 2019

Vegan options like a zucchini burrito at Carlos Restaurante in Winston.

Blue check marks identifying healthy vegan options at the buffet line at Shanti’s Indian Cuisine in Roseburg.

Chickpea sandwiches and fruit as snacks for impulse buyers to grab in the Sherm’s Thunderbird Market checkout line in Roseburg.

These are among the changes made by local businesses that have joined Blue Zones Project — Umpqua.

The goal, according to organizer John Dimof, is to make it easier for the business’s customers to make the healthier choice. All too often, Dimof said, people wait too long to make the choices that can head off health crises. They wait until the day they receive bad news from their doctor.

Blue Zones Project — Umpqua wants to help county residents avoid the crisis altogether. Toward that end, the Blue Zones Project helps restaurants and stores become places where customers have healthier options, and then helps them market those changes to boost their customer base.

“Make the healthy choice the easy choice,” is Dimof’s advice.

Shobana Randev, manager of Shanti’s, said she and her mother decided when they bought the restaurant together that they wanted to sell healthier versions of Indian cooking, cooked the way they are at home. When they started working with Blue Zones, they made some additional changes to limit salt and grease.

“One of the things they had us do was just remove every salt shaker from the tables. We have it if they ask for it, but now automatically people just don’t salt their food without tasting it,” Randev said.

They also replaced real butter with plant-based butter in the spinach-based dish saag and the lentil-based dal. The trick, Randev said, is to use better quality food, shop locally and don’t skimp on spices and flavor.

Manuel Jaime, owner of Carlos, said he added a vegan menu, including zucchini stir fry and vegan burritos. He also added healthy sides that people ordering burgers and steak sandwiches could opt for instead of french fries.

“These days, not all the restaurants have healthy food, you know. It’s getting more like deep fried and microwaved and a lot of fast food. And a lot of people are concerned about their health because of the way they’re eating,” he said.

Jaime pointed to Douglas County’s poor health statistics as evidence that many county residents need to eat better. It’s important to provide them with healthier options, he said, and those healthy options have the added benefit of boosting his bottom line.

“To me this is very important to provide that, and it’s helping my business because I have, like I say, more options for my customers. We are getting new customers just because of that,” Jaime said.

Randev said the new approach has really paid off for Shanti’s, too.

“Ever since we started our Blue Zones journey, last August of 2018, we’ve noticed a spike of 30 percent more sales compared to the previous year. It was very, very significant,” she said.

In addition to Carlos and Shanti’s, other restaurants that have already received Blue Zones approval are Logger’s Tap House and Bluebird Pizza in Roseburg. My Coffee Experience has also been approved, as has Downtown Market on Southeast Jackson Street. Five additional Roseburg restaurants are working toward gaining approval — Old Soul Pizza, Alexander’s Greek Cuisine, Parrott House, Brix Grill and McMenamins. Gathering Grounds Coffee House is also working toward approval, and so is Albertson’s grocery store.

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