The COVID-19 crisis has not stopped some local restaurateurs from acting with hope for the future of the industry.
Oklahoma City’s culinary landscape will definitely be different when the COVID-19 crisis subsides, and in ways no one can yet predict. We have already seen some permanent closings, but what has been most surprising, perhaps, is the restaurateurs who are opening concepts and planning concepts in the middle of the pandemic.
Amir Alavi owns Health Nut Café, a sandwich, salad and wrap concept that has multiple locations around the urban core. When a location came available on the south side near Westmoore High School, he thought it was a good time to begin to take his brand into south Oklahoma City. Then the virus hit.
“Obviously, that wasn’t the best news as we were getting the location together, but then we realized that just using the drive-through window would give us a chance to establish the brand and introduce the people in that area to Health Nut, while keeping our people and customers safe,” Alavi said.
The new Health Nut location at 12201 S. Western opened April 4, and the menu is the same as the other locations: healthy salads, hot and cold wraps, smoothies, sandwiches, soup and humus. Sandwiches come with chips and salsa that’s made fresh every day. In other words, it’s the perfect food for drive-through service.
On May 1, 25 miles north of Alavi’s new spot, the Cafe 7 team opened Cafe Siete inside Total Express, a gas station-convenience store on the corner of NW 164th and Rockwell. The concept focuses on tacos, burritos and tortas, as well as other authentic Mexican favorites.
“The Total Express owners asked us if we’d be interested in partnering on the food side, and we loved the idea,” Chris Kana, an operating partner of Cafe 7 and The Hamilton, said. “When we got to check the place out, we realized they had three cooks who had been here for six to ten years, and so we just turned them loose on their own recipes.”
Those recipes include some of the best chorizo tacos in OKC (or Edmond) and remarkable fresh salsas like the roasted pineapple-arbol sauce that is not for the sensitive palate. Cafe Siete functions much like a counter-service restaurant, so customers order from the front register, just as if they were paying for gas or items from the c-store. The May 1 opening meant Cafe Siete could have served food for the few tables inside the store, but the partners decided to keep takeout going for a while to monitor the COVID-19 crisis and ensure the safety of guests and staff.
Cafe Siete isn’t the only new restaurant coming to Edmond. Cy Mills, his brother Payne, and father Hal will be opening two concepts in the old Farmers Grain Co. building at 102 W. First St. in downtown Edmond. Mills and his brother have extensive restaurant experience; Cy is an experienced sommelier, and Payne is a chef, and both were involved with Vast when it first opened.
“We’re shooting for July, but we realize that might not happen with the virus crisis, so we’re prepared to wait longer if necessary,” Cy Mills said. “We don’t want to open until we can serve people the way the concepts are designed to operate.”
The building will have an outdoor, patio bar with barbecue-style food and cocktails in a casual setting. Inside, the restaurant will be more upscale, with a focus on chef-driven, locally sourced products, craft cocktails and a small but excellent wine list chosen by Cy Mills.
“We love this building, and we already have a sign, so we’re sticking with Farmers Grain,” Mills said. “This facility was built in the 1890s, and then it burned down. It was rebuilt in 1923, so we’re not sure what all issues we’ll have as we get into the actual construction project. We’re confident that July will be the timeframe, though.”