Organic, GMO-free fare at DePaul hits the healthy spot

New campus eateries and groceries speak to many Millennials’ preference for organic foods.

A long lunch line of hungry customers ended right in front of DePaul’s College of Communication building on Earth Day. Many customers stood in line patiently waiting to order their first meals from Just Salad, a newly opened restaurant.

While the consumer demand for organic foods is expected to increase in the coming years, many of its heavy demanders are people in the younger demographic profile, including college students.

Just Salad, located to the left of the communication building, is the Loop’s latest addition of restaurants focused on serving its a selection of customers healthier, organic and GMO-free foods.

The shop opened up a few weeks ago and recieved immediate traffic from students.

“Business is great and the response from the local community has been phenomenal,” Jason Rotter, Chicago Team Leader and Partner of Just Salad, said.

Just a couple weeks since opening, Franky Martinez, brand ambassador for Just Salad, said the restaurant has stayed busy, especially during the lunch hour rush.

“We’ve been getting a lot of students from surrounding colleges, faculty and city workers who are already very loyal customers,” Rotter said.

As of Spring 2014, a little more than 43 million people have started purchasing organic foods.

“I’ve talked to students and they’ve told me that they wanted more healthy options here because the majority of restaurants surrounding this area are fast food,” Rotter said.

For a while, DePaul students in the loop had limited healthy dining options like Potbelly’s, Jimmy John’s, Hannah’s Bretzel and Halsted Street Deli. If students are specifically looking for organic and GMO-free foods they now have Just Salad in addition to Chipotle, which officially announced a GMO-free menu earlier last week.

“Being non-GMO is a huge a plus,” sophomore Breanna Otto said. “It won’t make me want to eat there more than I already do but I will feel better when I do eat there.”

Since the demand for organic and non-GMO has gradually increased over the last decade, Benjamin Bui, a DePaul student, believes the healthy eating food movement stemmed from various documentaries including “Super Size Me,” “Food Inc.” and Michelle Obama’s “Let’s Move” campaign, which encourages children to fight obesity by adapting healthy lifestyles at an early age.

“I feel a combination of these caused the public to question their own food, and from that point on they decided to look into organic and healthy food,” Bui said.

Restaurants are responding to the large demand by adding more whole, natural and green foods to their menu.

“We’re doing really well and part of the success is attributed to our food initiative,” Matt Bare, a marketing strategist for Chipotle said. “Chipotle is a pivotal point in our food history and although we can’t take full credit for a movement, I think we’re an important piece to that and hopefully will continue to be.”

DePaul students like Otto are excited about the opening of Just Salad as well.

Rotter said Just Salad has featured non-GMO ingrediants for awhile now.

While Just Salad’s doors are close to Chipotle, he said the company is looking forward to coexisting with Chipotle.

“We’re just trying to give our customers more of a variation,” Rotter said.

As more healthy restaurants continue to open up near DePaul’s Loop Campus, DePaul’s cafeteria in the DePaul Center is one of the businesses that might be negatively impacted.

A manager for the Chartwells in the Loop dining hall believes the opening of Just Salad will most likely impact business because of the disadvantage of being on the 11th floor.

The manager added that not many people are willing to come upstairs for food if they can easily pick up food on the main level.   

A health trend that seems to be growing has already impacted DePaul’s Lincoln Park community with its latest grocery store opening of Whole Foods next to the Fullerton Red Line stop.

“The placement of Whole Foods right next to campus was the greatest idea ever,” Bui said. “It’s so close to campus that anyone can just go there and grab something healthy to eat on their way to or from class.”

Although Bui said he doesn’t have the budget for Whole Foods groceries, he still made a switch to eating healthier foods such as salads, soups and sandwiches after constantly having fried food from the Ranch in DePaul’s Lincoln Park dining hall for an entire quarter.

“I stopped eating at the Ranch because my stomach started hurting from eating their food too much,” Bui said. “I also started working out and felt it was best to let go of all the junk and fried food I was eating.”

With food sales reaching $35 million in the organic market, Bui believes that the health trend is here to stay .

“If you want to be healthy, you should make that decision for yourself,” Bui said.

“No one should be pressured into eating healthy if they don’t want to, especially not to follow a trend,” he said. “It’s a lifestyle decision that should be made to improve their own health.”