Taziki's Mediterranean Café

Birmingham's Taziki's restaurant chain is first franchise in the U.S. to earn REAL seal of approval
Keith Richards has been keeping it real since him and his wife, Amy, opened their first Taziki's Mediterranean Café in Birmingham nearly 17 years ago.

Now, they have an official REAL Certification to prove it.

By Bob Carlton

The United States Healthful Food Council recently announced that Taziki's is the first national franchise to receive the council's REAL Certification, a designation that recognizes restaurants that go the extra step to serve their customers meals with nutrient-dense fruits, vegetables and whole grains; that emphasize local and organic ingredients; and that serve meals that are made from scratch using healthy cooking methods and a minimum of processed foods.

tziki kitchen

"When Amy and I created Taziki's, all we wanted to do is set it up to be a small, healthy restaurant and have loyal fans -- but also increase their life expectancy by giving them an alternative to fast food," Richards said in an interview with AL.com.

"So I guess we've been real from Day 1, but again, we've never gotten credit for doing what we do every day -- prepping 100 items every day, making them from scratch, using all-natural chicken, fresh produce when possible, all of those things."

From its original restaurant in the Shops of the Colonnade off U.S. 280, Taziki's has grown to 40 locations in 11 states. Taziki's will open its 12th Alabama restaurant in Madison on Jan. 27, Richards said.

The REAL acronym stands for Responsible (nutrition), Epicurean (preparation), Agricultural (sourcing) and Leadership (going above and beyond), according to the USHFC.

"It's obvious that Taziki's goes the extra mile to purchase higher quality ingredients and utilize healthier preparation methods," Lawrence Williams, CEO of the USHFC, said in a media release. "Innovating in a mature industry is very challenging, and we applaud Taziki's for helping to establish what is essentially a new industry segment -- fresh-casual."

The Taziki's menu offers freshly grilled meats, vegetarian entrees and healthy side dishes -- including lamb and chicken gyros, Greek and Mediterranean salads and grilled salmon and shrimp. The menu does not does not include any deep-fried items.

taziki salad

Taziki's longtime customers know what to expect, Richards said, but he hopes the REAL Certification will make new customers aware of the restaurant's healthy options.

"We have a great customer base," he said. "Them seeing another sticker on the door is not really going to change their eating habits because they're already eating Taziki's and they love Taziki's.

"But how do we get other people to understand what REAL is? I think that, for us and for them, honestly, is the challenge. People are going to come to Taziki's knowing that it's fresh food. But if we promote the REAL brand, then our stores in Athens, Ga., and in Dallas, and people who are really concentrating on what they're eating will see that we are a part of a REAL Certification.

"How we prep our food every day shows that we are conscious of our diners, that we want them to have a good experience and that we want them to have fresh and healthy food."

Established in 2011, the USHFC is a 501(c)3-registered nonprofit dedicated to fighting diet-related disease by realigning the food industry's incentives with consumers' health interests, according to its websites.

Source: al.com


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