Oprah Winfrey is lending her influence - and her money - to True Food Kitchen. The restaurant group announced that Winfrey is now a board member and minority investor in True Food Kitchen.
The details of Winfrey's financial investment were not disclosed.
The addition of one of the world's most influential female entrepreneurs to the team of Phoenix-based True Food Kitchen is part of a series of changes focused on expansion. CEO Christine Barone, hired in 2016 and formerly a senior vice president at Starbucks, says the company plans to double the number of True Food Kitchens in three years - from 23 to 40-some stores by the end of 2021.
True Food Kitchen is a restaurant that says it's focused on "better living," and its menus mark items that are gluten-free, vegetarian or vegan. The restaurant was co-founded by holistic health guru Dr. Andrew Weil and centered around what he calls his Anti-Inflammatory Diet, which is a pyramid of how people should eat to "avoid and counteract chronic inflammation," according to his website.
When the first True Food Kitchen opened in the Dallas area, at the tony Preston Road and Northwest Highway area in 2013, it was nicely positioned during a time when healthful eating was getting increasingly popular in Dallas. (Our restaurant critic said in 2014 in her two-star review: "Just 2 1/2 months after it opened, True Food Kitchen is so popular you'd think the chef was giving away free kale.") A second True Food Kitchen opened in D-FW, at Legacy West in Plano in 2017.
Barone says the three-year expansion plan will include more restaurants in Dallas-Fort Worth, though the focus will be on the East Coast, a company statement says.
"I continue to be really excited by the reception we have in Dallas," Barone says. "I don't have anything solid yet, but we are looking at a number of additional restaurants in the greater Dallas area."
But really: Let's talk about Oprah. According to Barone, it was Winfrey's idea to invest in True Food Kitchen.
"She invited me to lunch at her home," Barone says. They discussed organic gardening and True Food Kitchen's motto that "we really want to be part of that life well lived," she explained.
"I think there are many elements of (Winfrey's) passions that are shared with what our passions are, as a brand," she says.
Winfrey is quoted in a company statement, saying she was "so impressed with the team's passion for healthy eating and, of course, the delicious food, that I knew I wanted to be part of the company's future."
In 2017, True Food Kitchen separated from Fox Restaurant Concepts, the parent company of restaurants such as Flower Child, North Italia and others. Sam Fox, CEO of Fox Restaurant Concepts and the co-founder of True Food Kitchen, said in late June 2018 that the spinoff was "like our child has graduated from college and is now in the real world." He still serves on the board, and the headquarters are next-door to Fox Restaurant Concepts.
Now that True Food Kitchen is off on its own, Winfrey's endorsement is a major moment for the company. Winfrey's past endorsements include popular consumer plays like Oprah's Book Club and Oprah's Favorite Things as well as partnerships with Teavana and investments with Weight Watchers.
Barone called Winfrey's investment and board seat with True Food Kitchen "thrilling and exciting for us," later saying, "We believe she'll be able to accelerate our business."
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