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Freshii’s menu includes salads, wraps, soup and other variations on the health-food theme.

Another Newcomb digs into the fast-casual food business

Bowl Oaxaca_400px_rgbBy JACK WEATHERLY 

Don and Chris Newcomb are the father-and-son team that created McAlister’s Deli and Newk’s Eatery, two very successful fast-casual food chains based in Mississippi.

And John Newcomb?

Same family – nephew to Don and first cousin to Chris.

Different restaurant. Freshii, a chain started by Matthew Corrin in 2005, will have grown to 300 restaurants in 85 countries by the end of this year.

Yahoo Health ranked it No. 4 among the fast-casual healthful-food chains last year.

FRESHII: John Newcomb has opened a Freshii – a health-casual, fresh food concept store – in Market Street at 736 MacKenzie Lane in Flowood.

FRESHII: John Newcomb has opened a Freshii – a health-casual, fresh food concept store – in Market Street at 736 MacKenzie Lane in Flowood.

“I wanted to bring something new to Mississippi,” Newcomb said.

And the Freshii he opened on Aug. 8 in Flowood at 736 MacKenzie Ln. in the Shops on the Park will be followed by one in Jackson in April and another in Oxford two months later, he said.

As the name suggests, the emphasis is on health. In case the name doesn’t tip you off, the large, hand-lettered “mantra” on the wall spells it out. It could be called the 10 Suggestions, starting with “Let’s Eat Without Regret. Let’s Love Kale” and ending with “Let’s Eat. Energize.”

And as the philosophy suggests, the target is typically millenials and others with a taste for healthful food.

Newcomb’s intense due diligence convinced him he had a fit. “We researched this for over a year,” he said, including an extended visit to Chicago to check out a dozen Freshiis.

This reporter ordered a Fiesta Wrap – a generous combination of field greens, avocado, aged cheddar, corn, black beans, salsa fresca and cilantro lime vinaigrette wrapped in a whole-wheat tortilla. A 16.9-ounce vitamin drink was free. Total $8.01. Frozen yogurt with honey and cranberries was $5.34.

Freshii is not vegan (e.g., the cheese and yogurt) and not necessarily vegetarian – depending on what the customer wants. Meat can be added for an extra cost. On the other hand, Newcomb says, orders can be made gluten free and there is a nutritionist on staff.

Animal makes the wall across from the mantra in what looks like a periodic table, but instead of chemical elements, it’s food elements, ranging from AV (avocado) to BA (bacon) to DC (dried cranberry) to WN (walnut.)

The atmosphere is enhanced by unobtrusive techno-pop music bouncing off the very high post-industrial ceiling and wooden benches all drenched in white.

John’s background was no more likely for an entrepreneur than Don’s, the dentist who opened his first McAlister’s Deli in Oxford. Don and son Chris opened Newk’s Eatery in 2004, the same year that McAlister’s was sold to a private investment group.

John Newcomb’s father, Guy, Don’s brother, was a pharmacist who owned several drugstores in Osceola, Ark.. He died in a hunting accident in 1985 just before dove season and his son brought in the crop.

He found he loved the soil and so after a few years he sold his pharmaceutical company and became a full-time farmer near Yazoo City.

He doesn’t trade on his family name, but he’s certainly not bashful about claiming them.

“I’ve seen how well they’ve done and I wanted to sort of try it,” he said in a telephone interview.

Newcomb declined to say how much a Freshii franchise costs, but said “it’s a whole lot less than Newk’s.”

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