October 2019

Building Better Habits: With the next phase of Healthy Habit, restaurateur Nick Bergelt’s mission to build better food truly begins.

Author: Barry Kaufman | Photographer: M.Kat Photography

Partners in Creating Healthy Habits: Nick Bergelt, Andrea Roberts, and Hope & Kevin Yeung at the newly opened Healthy Habit location in Park Plaza.

Nick Bergelt is no stranger to the Hilton Head Island restaurant scene. The energetic young entrepreneur has launched some of the island’s most treasured restaurant concepts, overseeing every aspect of each operation from décor to menus with his trademark hyper-intense vision.

It was a lifestyle that kept him constantly on the go, pinballing between meetings and grabbing a bite to eat whenever he could. In a stroke of dark irony, the man responsible for so much great food was in danger from the very cuisine he’d worked so hard to elevate.

“Having been in the restaurant business, burning the candle at both ends for a decade, I really started reassessing my health and wellness,” he said. Eating whatever food was readily available, regardless of its impact on his health, became an occupational hazard. “It’s something you don’t have to think about when you’re young and you have the metabolism. That starts to fade when you cross that 30-year-old threshold.”

His quest for healthier dining options led him to Healthy Habit, a north-end haven of sensible options, healthy salads and organic offerings. He hit it off immediately with the owners and with their mission to provide healthy food as accessible as it was nutritious.

“It was very congruent with where we were personally,” he said. “And I saw in Healthy Habit the potential to make an impact. We learned a lot about our food system and the lack of consumer education. People have no clue how a tomato gets to them, for example.”

Consumer education was already a big part of the Healthy Habit model, along with an array of grab-and-go items that focused on fresh green salads. Bergelt spent three months getting to know their business model before pulling the trigger, agreeing to acquire the concept and keep the original owners on. “I knew there was a lot of opportunity beyond salads,” he said. “The real opportunity was this idea that we can expand into any category as long as we lead with truth in ingredients and educating people in the process.”

It was something Bergelt had seen in his previous restaurants, with healthier options exploding in popularity over the last few years. Moving into the health food space would have made sense even without his growing personal connection to the movement.

But first, the focus was on expanding into a new space. Bergelt was already well-acquainted with opening restaurants in Park Plaza, so it was a natural fit for him to bring the concept into the old Electric Piano spot. With the location in place, expansion of the menu began in earnest, based on the sort of in-depth customer analysis that built Bergelt’s previous brands. He built on the salads with superfoods and placed the fresh local ingredients front and center. Literally.

“We wanted to introduce customers to where their food comes from,” he said. “That’s when we found automated urban farms where we can harvest organic spring mix and things like that—hundreds of pounds of it a week. We built windows behind the kitchen so you can see the lettuce growing behind the chefs.”

They also layered in more healthy options among the fresh greens that tantalize the taste buds even as they nourish the body. “We didn’t want there to be a trade-off for the customer. You tend to think of it as tofu and sprouts, something you eat because you ‘have to eat healthy today,’” he said. “For us, we wanted everything to be craveable, with the underpinning being the truth in ingredients.”

But the biggest expansion will come next, one that could see Bergelt’s vision for accessible healthy food truly realized on a scale far beyond Hilton Head Island. The first of several planned grab-and-go kiosks have already been built and await deployment—free: standing vending machines, essentially, that will dispense healthy bowls of superfoods and leafy greens at the peak of freshness.

Filled every morning, these kiosks present the opportunity to revolutionize snack food, giving always-on-the-go types a way to maintain a healthy lifestyle without slowing down. Bergelt says that the first kiosks will deploy soon at several spots around the island, with Hilton Head serving as a proving ground for the concept.

“It really comes down to what can I do here. I see what we’re eating … and we have to do better,” he said. “It takes a lot to evolve the food system, so we’re going to start by seeing what we can do on the island to make healthy eating affordable and make it work here.”

As usual, he’s taking a disruptor’s perspective to this new venture, utilizing an app and facial recognition that will eventually learn your eating habits and begin making recommendations based on your tastes and preferences. And even better, philanthropy is baked right into the business model. At the end of every day, unsold bowls will be donated to area food banks and shelters so everyone can eat healthy no matter what.

“With these kiosks, we can really move the needle with respect to peoples’ health. That was the biggest defining criteria for us,” he said.

For Bergelt, Healthy Habit is ultimately more than just another restaurant concept. It’s more than just kiosks. It’s a vision fueled by his own renewed focus on personal health, urged on by national trends toward better eating and enabled by an island ready to change its relationship with food.

“I view it as just as much a mission to heal myself as much as anyone else. We are constantly moving toward being busier, more connected, and with less downtime. It’s important to take a step back and focus on what you’re putting into your body.” 

For more information, visit www.healthyhabithhi.com or call (843) 686-5600.

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