A three-unit healthful-foods concept in Los Angeles that has enjoyed the Midas touch of the Kardashian family is taking it to the next level with Kris Jenner as an equity investor.
HN Holding LLC, parent to the Health Nut brand, said Tuesday that Jenner has become the family-owned business’ first investor. Terms were not disclosed, and Health Nut CEO Steve Choi declined to characterize the investment.
But he said Jenner brings considerable business acumen to the table — not to mention the huge media reach of the Kardashian family — as Health Nut plots new growth for the fast-casual brand in Los Angeles and beyond. Jenner is the mother of Kim Kardashian, Kourtney Kardashian, Khloe Kardashian, Kylie Jenner, Kendall Jenner and Rob Kardashian.
Choi said the company is planning to open about seven more units in the LA area before launching franchising. And Health Nut is looking at licensing partnerships that could include branded products and snacks for grocery stores, airports or college campuses.
“The customers we’re selling to really care what they’re putting in their bodies,” said Choi. “So we want our products to be straightforward, simple, healthy and accessible anywhere.”
Choi said Health Nut’s history goes back to 1988, when his Korean immigrant parents bought a little health food store in Calabasas, just outside Los Angeles, that mostly sold vitamins and frozen foods. The store had a little deli that sold salads and sandwiches, and, for about 20 years, that’s how the store operated.
In 2007, the landlord raised the rent considerably, Choi said. To offset that, he offered a few thousand dollars for the Choi family to remodel and revamp the brand. Choi said his mother beefed up the deli menu, and the restaurant side of the business began to pick up. Choi, who had graduated from business school at that point, became more involved in helping to pivot the business.
But the turning point came in 2015, when a local family called the Kardashians became fans of Health Nut’s salads and began tweeting about it.
As the Kardashian brand grew, their regular visits to the little store became a backdrop on their reality shows.
“I remember I was at church one Sunday when someone said Kim Kardashian had tweeted about Health Nut,” said Choi. “I said, ‘I think that’s a big deal.’ So I called my mom and I suggested she add a cashier the next day. On Monday, our sales doubled, literally overnight.”
But what he thought would be a short-term blip became sustained sales growth, and Choi quit his job to take over for his parents to grow the company, getting rid of the vitamins and focusing on the food.
The omnivore menu includes various vegan and vegetarian options, but Health Nut serves chicken, tuna, turkey, egg salad and tofu in salads and sandwiches.
Choi said the average check is between $20-$25, and off-premises sales have become a growing focus through the pandemic, so future units will be smaller (about 1,600-square-feet) with more delivery and pickup, as well as a catering program.
In addition to growing units, Choi sees potential for 35 to 40 retail products, including a line of dressings created by Choi’s mother, and the company is starting to pitch licensing partners.
Choi said his parents have retired and are happy playing golf, though they stay engaged. “If you had asked me six years ago where I thought I’d be in 2022, I’d never have said this,” said Choi. “It’s a blessing from the Lord and I couldn’t be more grateful.”
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