Coolgreens executive chef Trey Ferguson says his job is not just presenting a nice plate of food.
"I see the customer as a product of my food," he said.
Customers entrust him with feeding them, so he reciprocates with the most delicious food he can muster while contributing to their good health.
"I like my customers," Ferguson said. "Why would I want to serve them something that would harm their health?"
But before you dismiss Coolgreens as a health-food restaurant, know that its first commitment is to deliciousness.
"Eating healthy doesn't have to be punishment," partner Chris Lower said.
It helps to have a classically trained chef, such as Ferguson, a graduate of The Coach House apprenticeship program, conceive the menu and execute it with fresh ingredients that are organic and local whenever possible.
What you will find are wraps, salads, flatbread pizzas and soups that are made with those ingredients, locally baked bread, house-made dressings and condiments artistically prepared and expertly executed. You'll also find frozen tart yogurt served with fresh fruit and house-made granola.
What you won't find are potato chips or soda pop. Nor will you find Skittles, toffee or crumbled Oreo cookies to mix with the yogurt.
With the temptation of processed foods removed, it's much easier to try it healthy and learn that delicious doesn't come in a can, box or aerosol can. "Some of my friends said, 'You're not even going to have Diet Coke?' " managing partner Allan McMurrain said. "And we almost caved in."
"But then we decided we had to stay true to what this place is all about," Lower said.
The credo is simple: delicious, healthy food. No concessions. If it's delicious but unhealthy or healthy but not delicious, go elsewhere.
"We don't have any high-fructose corn syrup," Ferguson said. "The only sugar in any of our food is in the frozen yogurt right now, but we're trying to find a way to change that."
Change is risky considering how successful the place has been. Despite a menu that one would think lent itself best to the spring and summer, Coolgreens opened in mid-September 2009 and breezed through fall and winter, building a growing fan base each month. That brought about the happy accident of soup, and flatbread pizzas, too.
"We were saving our chicken scraps," McMurrain said. "And Chris was looking for a way to fit the menu in better with the seasons."
"So we came up with soup," Ferguson said.
"And Trey's soups, well, you can tell he worked at The Coach House for a long time," Lower said. "The flatbreads were about trying to warm up the menu, too."
All the breads used at Coolgreens come from Prairie Thunder Bakery. Coolgreens recently introduced an Oklahoma Market Fresh Salad that is made up of only Oklahoma ingredients.
The menu contains several signature salads, soups, wraps and pizzas, or you may create your own. Coolgreens is set up similarly to Chipotle or Qdoba, and diners can choose ingredients and watch their meal being prepared.
The idea for Coolgreens sprang from the nation's capital. While visiting his daughter while she attended Georgetown University, local lawyer Tom Wolfe happened upon a place called Sweetgreen, which sold salads and yogurt emphasizing high-quality ingredients.
"Tom, who's a lawyer, called me and said he had a client interested in some restaurant consulting," McMurrain said.
The client turned out to be Wolfe, whose pitch interested McMurrain. They planned a trip together to Washington to check out Sweetgreen.
"The place was a little like the Soup Nazi," McMurrain said. "You turn a corner to get to the counter, and you better be ready to order."
But the food was good enough to compel McMurrain to reach out to one of Oklahoma City's most successful restaurateurs: Lower.
Lower, who owns The Metro Wine Bar and Bistro and a stake in Irma's Burger Shack and Big Truck Tacos, is not only one of the city's most prominent restaurateurs, but also is a gifted designer. The man who opened and designed the interiors for TheRoosevelt Grill and The Coach House also is responsible for the look of Coolgreens.
"When I was giving Chris my pitch, I got the sense that he hated the idea," McMurrain said. "I even said, 'You hate this idea, don't you?' But he said he was very interested, so we took another trip to D.C." McMurrain said they reached out to the Sweetgreen owners, three Georgetown graduates, to form a partnership.
"Two of them are from New York, and the other is from L.A. They told me they didn't know anything about the Midwest and were so busy with their operation, they wished us well."
Almost six months after the first store opened, a second store is ready to open its doors at 14201 N May Ave. Plans are set for a third store, which Lower said will be downtown with a fall opening planned.