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Fresh food making healthful meals also delicious has fueled growth for Newk’s Eatery

By BECKY GILLETTE

Newk’s Eatery was founded in Jackson in 2004 making it only 15 years old. Today it is grown from one location to one of the most successful food franchises based in Mississippi with 127 locations in 16 states. The fast-casual restaurant has gained so many fans by providing fresh meals that are as healthful as they are delicious, all at prices that are affordable considering the quality of the food.

“From the beginning, Newk’s has been committed to creating extraordinary meals and experiences for our guests,” said Chris Newcomb, CEO and co-founder of Newk’s Eatery. “We take great pride in our freshly-made items and preparation methods. Every meal is prepared by hand using quality ingredients, including more than 30 fresh fruits and veggies hand-chopped daily. Our proteins are seasoned, seared and sliced in-house and our desserts are handmade in our very own bakeries. You won’t find fryers or microwaves anywhere.”

The centerpiece of Newk’s dining room is The Roundtable which allows people to personalize meals with freebies such as fresh house-made croutons, imported capers, hand-sliced peppers, and Torinesi-style breadsticks.

Another key factor is convenience.

“At Newk’s, we go wherever our guests go, providing easy access to wholesome, freshly prepared meals in our dining rooms through online ordering, a grab and go express market cooler in every location, and catering for a wide variety of needs,” Newcomb said. “We take a very hands-on approach to every meal and go the extra mile to source the finest ingredients, locally whenever possible.

Although highly successful, Newk’s continues to evolve to meet the ever-changing needs and desires of guests.

“We have taken the past year to really listen to our guests and use this feedback to develop a plan we call Project Strive,” Newcomb said. “Project Strive is more than just a facelift for our restaurants. This project stems from our mission to strive to exceed expectations for each and every one of our guests. Since the beginning, we have tried to understand what our guests’ value most and bring those things to life, so that every single meal we serve can make a difference.”

The new prototype features an updated red soffit that reflects the tagline, “Our Kitchen is an Open Book” and interesting facts about the ingredients and preparation methods. The concept also works well for people with special dietary needs such as those who are gluten free, dairy free or vegetarian. Newk’s has many existing menu items that fall into those categories such as soups and salads. And because their food is made in-house, they can customize to fit almost any diet or lifestyle.

The open kitchen is fun for chefs and guests.

“The open kitchen allows our guests to see all the passion put into their food,” Newcomb said. “At Newk’s, hospitality is who we are, so we do our best to serve our dishes the way a friend would–with an ample dose of generosity and a smile.”

The SBA rates franchises according to default rates, and SBA data indicates some franchises have high rates of defaulting on their debt. Newcomb said they support Newk’s franchisees and set them up for growth in any way they can.

“We have a great understanding of our guests and what’s important to them, which allows us to continue to grow in new markets,” Newcomb said.

Newk’s is currently ranked as the 34th largest private company in Mississippi with $226 million in annual revenue. It employs almost 1,000 people. Newcomb said their philosophy is also to take care of each other through a safe work environment and restaurant. They are pushing to offer more to their hourly partners including milestone accomplishments, “free food goals,” and new uniforms.

“We believe the restaurant industry creates a great path to grow and make a long-term career,” Newcomb said.

Newcomb said they place a high importance on community involvement in each of their markets to strengthen relationships with the local communities. The intention is to not only make a difference for their guests, but also team members, owners and the communities where they are located.

Newk’s Cares is the philanthropic arm of Newk’s Eatery, established in 2014 by Newcomb, and his wife, Lori Newcomb, co-founder of Newk’s. The mission of Newk’s Cares is to improve the rate of early diagnosis by funding research and creating greater awareness about the early symptoms of ovarian cancer. To date Newk’s Cares has raised about $1.4 million for the Ovarian Cancer Research Alliance (OCRA).

“Newk’s Cares hosts two annual events during the month of September, a lunch and learn panel and Ovarian Cycle Jackson,” said Madison Newcomb, who is marketing coordinator at Newk’s. “We work with St. Dominic Hospital to host a lunch and learn event where panelists share statistics and symptoms of ovarian cancer along with critical research developments. Several medical experts spoke at the event and it is always free and open to the public to attend.”

Ovarian Cycle Jackson is their annual outdoor spin event. Each year, the community is invited to aid in the fight against cancer by participating in one of five 45-minute time slots every hour from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. There is a $50 registration fee to ride and ovarian cancer survivors ride for free.

“We look forward to this event each year and enjoy working with the Jackson community to cycle for a cure,” said Newcomb, who is the daughter of the founders of Newk’s.

In addition to the local events in Jackson, all Newk’s Eatery’s locations across the country participate in raising awareness of the cause. Guests have the opportunity to make a donation in support of ovarian cancer research and education both in-store and through online ordering. All funds collected are donated to OCRA. Guests who make a donation in-store are given a paper teal ribbon certificate featuring their name to be displayed within the restaurant. Additionally, ten cents from every Newk’s Cares water bottle sold is donated year-round to OCRA.

Newk’s also highlights eating healthy to help prevent cancer. This year the restaurant chain is featuring a seasonal Thai chicken soup.

“The soup features numerous cancer-fighting ingredients including mushrooms, carrots, turmeric, garlic, and green and red bell peppers, which contain antioxidants that can help reduce the risks of cancer,” Newcomb said. “This soup will remain in all Newk’s Eatery locations through March 2020. The shrimp and avocado salad will also be featured, as it was inspired by my mother. The salad features fresh ingredients including broiled shrimp, avocado, arugula, tangy feta crumbles, sweet grape tomatoes, green onions and house-made lemon basil vinaigrette.”

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About Becky Gillette