Follow-Up File: Healthy fare still selling in lean times

Name: Tom Maupin

Job: Franchise owner

Business: Evos

What he said then:

When Tom and Margie Maupin closed Tortilla Flats in 2006, retirement just didn’t take.

The couple signed on to open Evos, a healthier fast-food restaurant franchise in the Higuera Plaza shopping center near Trader Joe’s in San Luis Obispo.

The Florida-based chain offers fast-food with a twist: vegan choices, low-carbohydrate foods and no deep frying or grilling.

Before opening in 2008, the Maupins expected to employ between 15 and 25 workers, mostly students.

“We are looking to open 30 more restaurants within three to five years” in the Central Valley and along the coast, he added.

What he says now:

With 14 employees, the Maupins put expansion on hold and have scaled back their plans.

Tom Maupin now envisions “as many as 12 or more locations on the Central Coast and in the Valley.”

“We’re being reserved and waiting for the right situation to present itself,” he said.

A prime spot would be Foothill Boulevard near Cal Poly, he said. But so far, he hasn’t found the right combination of visibility and economy to make a move.

“You can get overly optimistic about things,” he said, adding that they still want to be “aggressive” in expanding.

“This was the first one we opened,” he said. “We learned a lot about our clientele. We found it’s a broader band than we thought it was.”

The Maupins originally expected older, health-conscious diners into their 40s. Instead they see a significant percentage of traffic from students.

They encourage repeat visits by giving students with valid school identification a free burger if they buy the large drink and fries.

They’ve offered promotions on Sundays when kids eat for free, and made a sales receipt a coupon for a burger with the purchase of a value meal.

“We do those internally,” he said. “We get a very high rate of return.”

The restaurant offers free Wi-Fi and guarantees a refund or replacement if any item isn’t to a customer’s taste.

“We encourage people to try new things that way,” he said.

The South Higuera Evos has expanded its menu to include customer requests, including wheat buns. It’s the only one that serves sweet potato fries and is bringing back the chicken Caesar wrap because guests asked.

“We try to be receptive to the community,” Maupin said. “As a franchisee, there are conditions and rules you have to work under.”

So the deep-fried ice cream that was once a favorite at Tortilla Flats probably won’t make the cut.

“We don’t have a deep fryer!” he laughed when asked. Then he immediately offered to try it in the convection oven. “It’s going to be a little sloppy.”

— Raven J. Railey