Behind the Scenes with Energy Kitchen

Energy Kitchen logo

Energy Kitchen is one of the fastest growing fast casual and healthy restaurant chains in New York City, and is quickly expanding down the East Coast. For those of you who haven’t tried a delicious meal here yet, you’re in for a tasty treat!

This isn’t your typical fast food restaurant where you can pick up a greasy burger, shake and fries for lunch – instead you’ll find healthy alternatives such as Bison Wraps and Turkey Burgers, Thai Chicken Wraps, Veggie Quesadillas or Turkey Meatloaf. Even their sides are healthy, including Steamed Broccoli, Mashed Sweet Potatoes, Black Bean and Mango Salad, Creamed Spinach with Tofu and more. They also offer healthy Soups and Salads, Breakfast Wraps and Smoothies for when you’re on the run but need a fast, delicious and healthy pick-me-up.

They truly live up to their motto: “Healthy on the Go”. Everything is Grilled, Steamed or Baked – Never Fried. All their drinks are low-calorie and salad dressings fat-free. And, everything on the menu is under 500 calories and reasonably priced (an average meal is around $12-13). How good can it get?

I had the opportunity to interview Anthony Leone, President/CEO of Energy Kitchen, as well as their Recipe Developer, Olivia Dupin, to get an insider view on their background, philosophy, company culture, and keys to success in the restaurant industry. I hope their stories will inspire you not only to become an Energy Kitchen fan as much as I am, but also to inspire anyone who has a love of healthy, delicious food and a desire to succeed as much as they do (which they clearly are and have done!) Enjoy.

Anthony Leone, President/CEO

Anthony Leone

AG: Can you tell me a little bit about yourself: background, education, career path, etc.?

AL: I have always had a passion for the food industry and eating healthy. I went to school for Hospitality Mgmt at FIU and have worked for Disney, and Boston Market. I decided to branch out on my own and develop a concept. Energy Kitchen was born. A place where everything on the menu is under 500 calories and we steam, bake, and grill everything – Nothing is fried! We plan on making Energy Kitchen the Pioneer and Leader of the healthy fast casual segment by opening 1,000 stores in 10 years!

AG: Can you tell me how Energy Kitchen got started and what prompted you to start your own business?

AL: I have always been entrepreneurial. Even when I worked for other concepts I would run them as my own.  I would be working in NYC and tried to eat healthy at local restaurants. What I noticed was that I was ordering healthy items, but the way they prepared their food was not good for you. I realized all calories are not created equal. One example was egg whites – the restaurants would put oil and butter on the grill to cook them. I said there has to be a better way of cooking and I know that there are so many other people that want to eat this way. That is how it started. I decided then to take a chance and have not looked back since.

AG: How did you fall into your partnership with Randy Schechter and later on with Mike Repole, founder of Vitamin Water?

AL: Randy was a friend for many years when I built my first restaurant. Randy would travel a half hour to come eat at that location. When I was looking to build another store Randy invested. He has since left corporate America and has been working with me for 6 years building the brand.

Mike was a customer before he was an investor. He would come in to eat. We would also deliver to his office in Whitestone from time to time. When he sold Vitamin Water to Coke he was out there looking for the next Billion Dollar Brand. He called me up. we met for dinner and hit it off. The partnership has been incredible.

AG: How has Energy Kitchen changed and grown since the beginning and what are your long term goals?

AL: We have grown by leaps and bound. When Mike came in we changed the look and feel of the concept from the stores to our branding. We added custom salad bars, made everything under 500 calories. We made all of our beverages low or no calories. Our goals are much bigger today than since the beginning.  I thought we could get this chain to 100 stores. With Mike aboard, our goal is 1,000 stores in 10 years.

AG: What are your main values and beliefs as a healthy fast food restaurant?

AL: We believe that Fast Food does not have to be Fat Food, and that you can eat great tasting meals without all the guilt. We believe that all calories are not created equal – that is why we Steam, Bake and Grill everything and our food is never fried. We want to change the eating habits of America with our Concept. It is really ‘Healthy Made Easy’.

AG: What are some current and/or new efforts that Energy Kitchen is working on in terms of new product development, promotions, sponsorships, charities, etc?

AL: We are always looking to improve our product. We are never content. We have just partnered with Olivia Dupin as our recipe developer and Robert Brace as our trainer extraordinaire. We are always looking to add value to our guests’ experiences by providing them with different tools so they can reach their goals.

AG: How large is your staff and what qualities do you look for in an EK employee?

AL: Our staff in the stores average about 15 people per store. Our corporate office has 10 people working in it. I look for 4 things when it comes to employees. Attitude, this is something that is innate and that cannot be taught. Skill, toward their particular focus. Will, the attitude of whatever it takes to get the job done. And a great smile, it is infectious.

AG: Can you describe a typical day and responsibilities as CEO of Energy Kitchen?

AL: It varies from day to day. Some days I am out in the field getting feedback from our guests and employees. Other days I am in the office meeting future franchisees (I want to meet everyone that comes into the company) telling them about our vision. It really depends on the day.

AG: What are some of the challenges of running and growing a restaurant chain/franchise?

AL: As we get bigger, having the guest experience the same quality and service every time has been a challenge. We have instituted systems to ensure that we are following specific procedures to try to eliminate those errors. If there are mistakes making sure the customer is satisfied at the end of their visit. I would rather make a mistake than miss an opportunity.

AG: What do you like most about what you do? Least?

AL: I love our concept and really enjoy all aspects of the business.

AG: What do you see as some of the current and upcoming trends in the food and restaurant industry?

AL: In a New Yorker’s fast-paced lifestyle, they want something that is ‘Healthy on the Go’.  It needs to be good for them, quick, but they do not want to compromise taste. At Energy Kitchen they know they can get a great meal and the piece of mind knowing that all the calorie counts are posted.

  1. We Only Serve Low Calorie Beverages
  2. We Do Not Cook with Oil Or Butter
  3. We really are ‘Fast Food Without The Guilt’
  4. They have recently asked for fiber on our nutritional chart and we have added it

AG: Do you have any words of advice for people considering a similar career?

AL: 1. Be Passionate on what you do. 2. Take your time hiring the best people with different skill sets. 3. Do not ever give up your dream. 4. Keep the end in mind. 5. Try to be like a turtle, soft on the inside, hard on the outside, and willing to stick your neck out!

AG: What is your proudest accomplishment?

AL: On our website we have a section called Love Letters. I really enjoy when I hear guests say how Energy Kitchen has helped them lose weight, reach their health goals, etc. It is very gratifying knowing that we were able to have a positive influence on people’s lives.

AG: Lastly, what is your favorite dish at Energy Kitchen and why?

AL: I really love all the food at our restaurants. But, if I had to pick one it would be our Energy Burger. It is a bison burger, topped with three egg whites and low-fat mozzarella cheese. It is making my mouth water as I speak!

Olivia Dupin, EK Recipe Developer

Olivia Dupin

AG: Can you tell me a little bit about your background and how you got started at Energy Kitchen as a Recipe Developer?

OD: I’ve wanted to be a chef since I was a little girl.  I used to play restaurant -cooking actual meals at home and with my friends at their houses.  I have always loved to eat, so learning to cook just felt natural.  Right after high school I enrolled at The Culinary Institute of America, and have been working in the industry ever since.

I got involved with Energy Kitchen when I interviewed with Mike Repole to be his private chef.  It wouldn’t have worked logistically since I live far from his home, so he asked if I would be interested in doing recipe development for Energy Kitchen instead. Then I met with Anthony, and brought him some samples of dishes that I thought would be good additions to the menu.  The corn and edamame salad I brought him is on the menu today!

AG: What are your specific responsibilities and what are some current efforts you are working on at EK?

OD: I’m responsible for developing new, healthy menu items on-trend with what’s happening in the world of food.  Everything is grilled, baked or steamed, but that doesn’t mean it has to taste “healthy”.

Right now I’m really excited to be developing recipes for Energy Kitchen’s website, too:  They are simple, nutritious dishes under 500 calories that people can cook in their own kitchens.

AG: What is the process for recipe testing and development? Do you develop recipes from scratch or adapt them from previous ones you’ve developed? How do you test them to make sure they are aligned to Energy Kitchen’s standards of being low fat, healthy and under 500 calories? Can you explain that a bit more?

OD: When I’m working on something new, sometimes I will start with a basic recipe, and then find ways to tweak it and make it healthier or more exciting.  Or, I develop recipes from scratch and, by trial and error, get them to a place where I am happy with them.  From there I use basic nutritional software to get a rough estimate of calories/fat etc. to make sure that they align with the nutritional standards of EK.  Then, once Anthony and everyone at EK are happy with the final product, we send the actual food to a lab to be tested for exact nutritional analysis.  Finally, I write up the recipe with detailed instructions and exact ingredient measurements and take step-by-step photos for the training manuals.

AG: What do you see as some of the current and upcoming trends in the food and restaurant industry? Are there any culinary trends that you are incorporating into the food and recipes you are developing for EK?

OD: I love that people are becoming more aware of the foods they eat, how they are prepared and what is actually in them.  I think that’s why people come back to Energy Kitchen – we make it easy to be good to yourself. Also, I think the food industry is becoming more conscious of people’s dietary restrictions, and catering to them rather than treating them as a nuisance.  I have Celiac Disease so I can’t eat gluten.  I love that Energy Kitchen has so many great options for those who eat gluten-free, low-carb, vegetarian, etc.

AG: How many people do you work with and where do you test and develop and cook?

OD: As far as the actual development goes, I work by myself – I think in a lot of ways I am the demographic we strive to please at EK.  I’m a busy professional trying to make healthy choices when I’m on the go.  Primarily I work on location in one of Energy Kitchen’s beautiful restaurant kitchens, or I’ll test at home in my kitchen.  I like working in the stores because it gives me a chance to see if a potential menu item is really practical for the scale of production, space and equipment of the restaurants.

AG: What are the challenges you run into being a private chef and recipe developer and what do you love most about what you do?

OD: Being a private chef comes with its own list of challenges.  Food is very emotional for people, and when you are working in someone’s home and preparing food for someone’s family or their honored guests, it’s very personal.  You have to listen to your clients and anticipate their needs – the biggest challenge is developing that intuition.

As a recipe developer, it is kind of the same thing.  It’s translating the ideas and concepts of the company into the food.

What I love most about what I do is that I get to see people eating and enjoying the food I’ve created, and know that I had a hand in making a healthy choice a little easier for them.

AG: Do you need to have prior hands-on cooking experience as a chef to get into recipe testing and development or is this something a person can grow into/learn?

OD: I think cooking experience is a must – you have to be comfortable in the kitchen and familiar with all types of ingredients and techniques.  I was lucky enough to sort of fall into recipe development a few years back.  I was working as a private chef and one of my clients was writing a cookbook with healthy meals for children/families.  She loved the foods I was preparing and asked if she could use some of the recipes in her book.  I learned a lot watching that cookbook come together and made some great connections to people who were willing to teach me even more.

AG: Do you have any words of advice for people considering a similar career?

OD: Love it. Being a chef has definitely been glamorized, but it’s really hard, and often really un-glamorous. You can’t do it if you don’t love it.  Also, eat everything!  I learn so much by eating!

AG: What is your proudest accomplishment?

OD: Once, I was on my way into the city for a meeting.  It was rush hour and the train was full of people reading that free daily paper they give out on the street.  I sat down and noticed that on the back of every paper was an Energy Kitchen ad featuring the newest burger we’d developed.  I think that’s when it really hit me – people all over New York City are eating my creations!  It was the best subway ride I’ve ever had.

AG: Lastly, what is your favorite dish at Energy Kitchen and why?

OD: I love all the sides, but my favorite dish is definitely the creamed spinach.  It’s garlicky and rich and feels like comfort food.

The following is one of many tasty and healthy recipes that Olivia has developed for Energy Kitchen (you can find more of them on
their Facebook page in the Recipes tab and also on Olivia’s Blog, “Liv Gluten-Free“):

Thai Pineapple “Fried” Rice with Shrimp (Serves 2)

  • 1 teaspoon olive oil or coconut oil
  • 1 cup broccoli florets
  • 1 cup cubed red bell pepper
  • 1/2 cup chopped white onion
  • 6 medium peeled deveined shrimp, tails removed and sliced lengthwise in half
  • 1 1/2 cups cooked brown rice
  • 1 cup cubed pineapple
  • 1/2 cup cubed light, firm tofu
  • 1/4 cup basil leaves, torn into pieces
  • 1 tablespoon reduced sodium soy sauce
  • 1 tablespoon Thai red curry paste
  • 1 tablespoon fish sauce
  • 1 tablespoon roasted peanuts, chopped

Preheat a large sauté pan over high heat. Meanwhile, combine the soy sauce, red curry paste, and fish sauce in a small bowl and set aside.

Add the oil to the sauté pan and when the oil starts to glisten, add the broccoli, pepper, and onion. Cook 1-2 minutes, until the broccoli turns bright green, then add the shrimp. Sauté, stirring occasionally until the shrimp curl and turn pink, about 3-4 more minutes.

Add the rice, pineapple, tofu, basil, and soy sauce mixture to the pan. Stir occasionally until the mixture is heated through, approximately 3 minutes. Divide onto 2 plates and garnish with the chopped peanuts. Serve immediately.

Nutrition Information (all nutrition information is approximate)
Per Serving

  • Calories: 375
  • Total Fat: 7.7 grams
  • Dietary Fiber: 8 grams
  • Protein: 16.8 grams

Energy Kitchen has multiple locations all over New York City. Read more about them (or order online!) at their website or become a fan on Facebook for weekly and monthly specials at and on Twitter (@Energy_Kitchen)


6 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Trackback: Tweets that mention Behind the Scenes with Energy Kitchen « artful gourmet --
  2. Chef Dennis
    Feb 11, 2011 @ 07:43:52

    what a great review and interview! I will have to try them next time I come up to the city!


  3. artful gourmet
    Feb 11, 2011 @ 14:06:01

    Thanks Chef Dennis! You should definitely try them out when you visit NYC next! Their flagship store on 23rd St (btw 5th-6th Ave) is amazing! Love the turkey meatloaf and mashed sweet potatoes and also love the Bison Steak Wrap and the Thai Chicken Salad..the BOMB!


  4. Rachel Weaver
    Feb 17, 2011 @ 13:40:46

    Chef Olivia rocks! Her food is the best in the business! Energy Kitchen really did themselves a favor when they hired her. If you haven’t tried the food there, you need to!


  5. Kim
    Jul 20, 2011 @ 14:12:07

    This is such a great interview with Chef Olivia! I have Celiac disease too. I wish we could get a listing of the GF food choices at Energy Kitchen. It is not available on their website, the staff can never answer the question and the company e-mailed saying it does not offer a listing of gluten free items. Seeing Chef Olivia’s interview makes me realize that there are foods I can eat, I just wish I knew which ones 🙂


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