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Danny Meyer wants to pump you up

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Good news for full-service operators who didn’t take their cue from Danny Meyer back in 2004 and go into the burger game when the getting was good. Meyer and his Union Square Hospitality Group (USHG) are fine dining kingpins in New York City, but their groundbreaking Shake Shack burger concept already numbers 16 units. Now Meyer and USHG have their sights set on another underdeveloped foodservice market: health club cafes.

Really? Let’s look at why the health club foodservice business, viewed through the eyes of savvy restaurateurs like Meyer and his USHG partners, is ripe for the picking.

Club cafes—often really just juice bars with snacks—function as both a profit center and desirable amenity in the health club industry. Estimates place a typical club’s capture rate (number of daily visitors who buy something from its café) between 15-20 percent. Industry statistics show that for 2011, there were 30,000 health clubs having 50 million members who, on average, visit their club 102 days each year.

In short, it’s a captive audience whose onsite food and drink needs are served by…can you name the dominant player in this huge market? Or any player at all? The health club segment holds so much potential you have to wonder why no other operator has jumped into it so far.

Which leaves the field wide open for USHG. To get started, Meyer and company have partnered with 58-unit fitness chain Equinox. The new concept’s name: Creative Juice.

The partnership describes itself this way: “Creative Juice is a healthy cafe concept that will bring fresh, nutritious and convenient food and beverage options to Equinox members and nonmembers. The cafe menu will feature the eponymous fresh juice line Creative Juice, a chef-inspired selection of delicious, nutritional and functional premium cold-pressed juices, as well as on-the-go culinary offerings.”

Keep in mind that the customer base for these good-for-you options self-selects at health clubs. They’re into healthy living and they spend plenty of money to maintain their healthy lifestyle.

Give Equinox credit in recognizing that chef-driven food and beverage offerings can become a huge competitive edge in both selling club memberships and charging more  for them.

USHG chef and director of culinary development Michael Romano is in charge of the Creative Juice menu. His plans include “eight nutritious juices, all of which are cold pressed to preserve the raw, nutritional benefits of each ingredient. The juices, which are loaded with fiber, vitamins, and minerals, are made fresh and delivered to each location daily. Some Creative Juice locations will offer smoothies, baked goods, hot and cold breakfast items, soups, made-to-order sandwiches, and snacks.”

With this deal, Equinox has the highest-profile food program in the health club industry right off the bat. But that’s in New York City. Health clubs elsewhere may soon be looking to partner with a well-known local restaurant or restaurateur to give their café programs some distinction—which is where you come in. If you get a chance to follow Meyer’s lead on a business gambit like this, take it.

Healthful dining is a fixture on Top 10 Trends list, but it doesn’t always do much as an add-on to a traditional menu. But basing an entire menu on it and selling it to a customer base that’s committed to a healthy lifestyle just might give you a way to make this trend pay off for your business. Finally.

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