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Meet Steve Choi of Health Nut in Calabasas and Woodland Hills

Today we’d like to introduce you to Steve Choi.

Steve, can you briefly walk us through your story – how you started and how you got to where you are today.
Health Nut has been around since 1971, but our family purchased it in 1988. At that time, it was primarily a vitamin and supplements shop (think GNC), with a tiny restaurant in the back with about 3 tables. Once we purchased the business, my mother, Shirley Choi, sought to enhance the menu offerings by creating a few more items. However, for the first 20 years, we operated mainly as a vitamin and supplements provider, run by my father Mike Choi, and not really known for our restaurant presence at all. In 2008, we decided to do some minor remodeling and revamp our menu to add more variety. The decision coincided with the steady decline of our vitamin business, while our restaurant saw tremendous growth since then. As of Sept 2016, we do not sell any vitamins or supplements and are 100% restaurant. It was also in 2008 that I personally began helping my parents with the business on the side, while I was working full time as a finance professional. I was involved with all marketing and promotions, legal, logo and website design, and strategic decisions to help grow the business. It was Aug of this year when I decided to quit my full-time job and take over managing the restaurant. As the business continues to grow, we decided that it was time for this transition as my parents begin to ease into retirement, and as I continue to build upon the success we’ve had here.

We’ve been constantly making changes to enhance the in-store experience as well as adding new menu items to appeal to a broader customer base. These items include our famous Mango Passion Iced Greentini, as well as our best selling Noodlerama and recently introduced Salmon Poke Bowl. Through all the changes, however, we’ve remained true to our core products, which include our delicious homemade tuna and various homemade dressings.

As you probably already know, one of our most famous customers, the Kardashians, mentioned us by name through Twitter in 2015 and has led to an increased brand awareness that is now known all over the world. They have been loyal customers from the very beginning, and we are so humbled by their willingness to share us with the world. It has been an amazing ride, and we are excited to see what the future holds.

We’re always bombarded by how great it is to pursue your passion, etc – but we’ve spoken with enough people to know that it’s not always easy. Overall, would you say things have been easy for you?
It hasn’t always been a smooth ride. Our vitamin sales continued to decline in the mid-2000s with the rise of retail and online competition (e.g. Costco, Amazon, Vitamin Shoppe, etc.), and given that that was our primary source of income, it was a rough few years for us. It was one of the reasons why we decided to focus more attention on the restaurant and try to grow that aspect of the business. It was something we believed was more in our control and more of a unique offering that can set us apart. We wanted to grow along with the trend in healthy eating, and take advantage of Shirley’s decades-long experience with delicious and healthy homemade recipes.

So let’s switch gears a bit and go into the Health Nut story. Tell us more about the business.
We offer our customers a variety of healthy food and drinks, made with simple and fresh ingredients. Our general menu categories include salads, sandwiches, wraps, melts, paninis, noodle dishes, smoothies, and teas. We are known for our five homemade dressings, which are the Original House, Spicy Asian, Sesame, Low Cal (no oil), and Low Fat Ranch. Our most popular dishes include the Noodlerama, Deluxe salad with a scoop of tuna, and our Chinese Chicken Salad. Our most popular drink is our Mango Passion Iced Greentini.

I am most proud of our dedication to freshness and quality of our ingredients, as well as our customer service. I am also proud of the consistency of our menu over many decades, while at the same time being able to adapt when necessary to create new items that appeal to a more diverse set of tastes.

I think what sets us apart is the simplicity of our ingredients, but how when eaten together, particularly with our dressings, the flavors are truly amazing. I think our ability to infuse Asian cuisine into a typical salad/sandwich joint makes us unique as well. Customers also enjoy our intimate setting that feels like home away from home and gives them a comfortable environment to sit and chat over a meal.

Has luck played a meaningful role in your life and business?
I would love to say it was all hard work and strategic decisions that provided for the growth that we’ve experienced, but that explanation would be severely lacking since there are plenty of business owners with a tremendous work ethic and great ideas, who don’t always find the same success for whatever the reason. Truthfully, there are days where we sit there and wonder just how we got here. To answer that question honestly, I would have to point to the most important aspect of our lives, and that is our faith in Jesus Christ. We are proud followers of Jesus, and to that end, we dare not attribute anything to simply “luck”, fully knowing that God has a divine purpose in everything that happens in this life, whether good or bad, success or failure. In our case, we’ve seen tremendous success here, and while we can point to various factors as reasons for it, we’d be robbing God of all the credit, because it is Him who gives and takes away, and we aim to give him the glory. This goes for our business as well as me personally, I don’t take anything for granted, even the not so good experiences of life. So we thank God every day for this place, for the customers and employees we’ve been able to serve and bless along the way, and for whatever the future holds because He who holds it is good and true and faithful.

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