Carrot Express, a healthy and casual restaurant, is a hit in Miami

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This week, Miami-born Carrot Express will open its first location in a city outside of Florida. And not just any city, but New York, often seen as the epicenter of success for any “we did it” business.

The journey from a Miami Beach gas station lunch counter to a growing chain brand is a testament to one man’s determination to turn his vision into reality.

The story begins in the late 1990s when Carrot Express founder Mario Laufer took his passion for healthy eating and turned it into a business venture.

“At the time, I was in another industry, making women’s clothing,” Laufer says. new times. “I had come to a point in my life where I had to clean up my diet for health reasons. I had to take it seriously and decided to focus on something that I was really passionate about – and that was the food.”

In 1993, Laufer opened its first iteration of Carrot Express – Gourmet Carrot – in Miami.

At the start of Gourmet Carrot, Laufer recalls dismal sales, some days no more than $250 a day, and a clientele that included drug dealers making sales along that particular stretch of West Flagler. He eventually sold the business, but a strong entrepreneurial spirit made him try again.

In 2012, Laufer opened what some longtime Miami Beach residents might remember as a lunch counter inside the Texaco gas station on Alton Road. At the time, his parents and sister ran the business alongside him, all crammed into the meager 250 square foot space.

It was here that Laufer changed the name to Carrot Express, refining the menu to nine sandwiches. Served on whole wheat pita or in a wrap, they included tuna salad, chicken salad, baked organic tofu, avocado, hummus, mixed vegetables, vegetables and feta cheese, a fat-free turkey breast and a veggie burger.

It was here that Laufer met his future business partner, Carrot Express CEO Abraham Chehebar, whose wife came home one day to tell him about the amazing food she had bought at – of all places – the gas station down the road.

“I had to see for myself, so I went to get some food one day, and it was buzzing. I was like, ‘Wow, this place is really busy.’ I was in the restaurant business and knew straight away that Carrot Express had something special,” says Chehebar new times.

Several years later, an official business relationship began. The duo put together a leadership team and opened a handful of franchises — steps that would pave the way for a bigger and better Carrot Express.

Most importantly, the partnership has allowed Laufer to focus on what he does best: creating an ever-changing menu of healthy, delicious foods. The chef took to his apartment kitchen, testing recipes from scratch — from turkey burgers to his famous lime-cilantro vinaigrette, which he says took an entire year — and refining them to perfection.

“Over the years, what has allowed Carrot Express to thrive is that we offer a great product. When you’re dealing with such expensive ingredients, you’d think it would be difficult to execute, but that’s not Not so. That’s where the genius of Mario comes in. play,” Chehebar says.

Click to enlarge

Carrot Express carrot cake

Photo courtesy of Carrot Express

Today, Carrot Express is booming. More than a dozen company-owned Carrot Express restaurants have opened across South Florida in recent years, including Las Olas, Pinecrest and Doral. That number will grow to more than 25 locations this year, including one just three minutes from Madison Square Park in Manhattan.

Laufer believes her success isn’t just about healthy eating. These are foods that taste really good while being good for you.

“The menu always improves. We always add things. I’m never satisfied,” he explains. “That’s part of what makes Carrot Express unique in the healthy casual restaurant space. Everything you eat at my restaurant tastes like it’s homemade because it is.”

Indeed, what was once a list of less than a dozen cold dishes and sandwiches has grown to more than 30 dishes, from soups, salads and smoothies to burgers, bowls, entrees and desserts.

And while you’d be hard-pressed to find anything on the menu from the early days of Carrot Express off Alton Road, one item – the LIV Wrap – can’t be substituted.

“In the beginning, we had a lot of influences and David Grutman was a big fan,” Laufer said of the Groot Hospitality founder. “He came in and asked me to make something special, a grilled chicken wrap with pesto, rice and cheese. We named it the LIV, and it’s still the best seller at that day.”

Other longtime menu favorites over the years include the Middle Eastern platter of quinoa tabbouleh drizzled with champagne vinaigrette and topped with falafel, hummus and roasted baba ghanouj and served with multigrain bread toasted by Zak the Baker ($14.95); the Salmon Buddha Bowl with seared salmon on a mixture of quinoa, Napa cabbage, green onions, edamame, corn, roasted eggplant and Brussels sprouts ($18.95); and the Chicken Goddess Sandwich, a panko-crusted chicken breast topped with cilantro-lime slaw and tomatoes on a toasted multigrain bun ($14.95).

These days, a new breakfast section is the latest addition to the Carrot Express menu. It offers homemade muffins and granola (for acai bowls or overnight oats) and a plethora of egg-stuffed wraps, bagels and avocado toast topped with everything from tartare of tuna with chicken salad and a fried egg.

“It’s been a bumpy ride to get here and make my dream come true. After so many business failures, to be where I am today is a blessing,” Laufer summed up. “But looking back, each challenge taught me something, and that helped make Carrot Express today a success story in Miami.”

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