A healthy appetite
Eat Smart Cafe caters to the palate while putting mind at ease

By Josh Perttunen - Enterprise Staff

June 12, 2014

The staff at Eat Smart Cafe is excited to offer healthier alternatives to fast food, introducing some customers to quinoa, aioli and chutney, among other ingredients. All who work at the restaurant are involved in the kitchen, including (from left) employee Eric Karius, manager Matt Spek, and manager Joshua Mansour.   
Josh Perttunen/Enterprise Staff

OCONOMOWOC - A lot of thought goes into the changing menu at the Eat Smart Cafe at 1416 Summit Ave. in Oconomowoc, but there are still some things that the staff considers no-brainers.

Joshua Mansour, a manager and chef at the restaurant, said ingredients should be fresh and local - and that the finished product should not leave customers feeling bad after consumption.

A blend of creativity and simplicity also goes a long way. For example, cranberry apricot turkey wraps share the menu with chocolate chip cookies made using a recipe handed down from Mansourís grandmother. 

Mansour sat down with the Enterprise on Tuesday to discuss the recipe that has led to two years of success at the Eat Smart Cafe.


ENTERPRISE: What was the impetus for creating the Eat Smart Cafe? And what is its philosophy?

MANSOUR: The owner got tired of eating a small hamburger from a fast-food restaurant that would leave him feeling lethargic the rest of the day. He wanted an alternative to the chain restaurants, where customers might not know where the turkey in their sandwich came from.

Mansour says fresh, healthy ingredients go a long way toward leaving the customer feeling full, without feeling lethargic. 
Josh Perttunen/Enterprise Staff

ENTERPRISE: What is your own personal buy-in to this philosophy?

MANSOUR: It was habit-forming to eat fast foods when I was growing up. For busy parents with multiple children to feed, it was often the easiest choice.

When I moved to Boulder, Colo., though, the only fast-food restaurants were on the perimeter. I ended up going to amazing restaurants that offered healthier alternatives.

Iíve always been aware of what I was putting into my body, but it was difficult to find the right things. Iím a runner, and couldnít eat fast food before going for a run because I knew Iíd feel like a rock.

Now that Iíve been working here, I read every label when grocery shopping. It takes a little bit longer, but Iím confident in what Iím bringing home.


ENTERPRISE: What are some customer favorites?

MANSOUR: The turkey panini with onions and tomatoes is a big hit. The breakfast burrito is filling and nearly three times as big as what youíd get at a fast-food restaurant. People like the chicken avocado salad. Iíve eaten that almost every day this week.


ENTERPRISE: With a name like Eat Smart, customers probably come in with questions. What questions do you get?

MANSOUR: They ask what is ďEat Smart;Ē they come in thinking it implies health food - with zero fat, but thatís not necessarily the case. Itís just good, fresh food that will leave you feeling good. Nearly everything is cooked in-house, with the exception of the soups, which come the Soup Market. We do things in a healthy way. We donít microwave plastic, for example, because it ends up leaching right into the food. These are some of the rules fast food should be following, but doesnít.

Customers also ask about some of the less familiar ingredients in their food, such as quinoa, aioli and chutney.

So that they can answer these questions, the staff must try anything that they are unfamiliar with.


ENTERPRISE: Who has been coming to eat at Eat Smart? Is it just for health nuts?

MANSOUR: I wouldnít say everybody who comes in is a health nut, but they are health-conscious - our clientele is pretty smart. We are getting staff from the hospitals and nearby businesses, high school seniors and everybody, really.


ENTERPRISE: What role does feedback play?

MANSOUR: Our staff of five is encouraged to bring their recipes in. We arenít afraid to experiment. We tried to make a chicken barbecue panini, but it didnít pan out. We replaced it with the Buffalo chicken panini, which is a customer favorite.

Customers are also encouraged to fill out the comment cards on every table. We get about 15 to 20 per day. People kept saying we needed plants. Though we had purposely avoided plants, we were eventually able to find plants that really fit with the atmosphere. It was a good suggestion.


ENTERPRISE: Is Eat Smart a franchise? If not, do you have plans to expand?

MANSOUR: It is not a franchise, but we could expand in the next two years. If we were to expand it would be to Waukesha, Milwaukee or elsewhere in the southeastern Wisconsin market.

Email: Jperttunen@conleynet.com