Santa Maria Sun / Eats
The innovative Moxie Cafe serves healthful options in an unexpected location
BY WENDY THIES SELL
Six years after becoming the first Central Coast company to be certified as a “Fit Friendly Worksite” by the American Heart Association, Hardy Diagnostics has upped the ante.
The Santa Maria-based company is the third largest manufacturer of bacteriological culture media in the United States.
Hardy Diagnostics goes above and beyond when it comes to employee health with an on-site gym, Tai Chi classes, walking breaks, free blood testing, and fresh fruit in the break room.
Now, after several years of planning, the company has opened its own restaurant, Moxie Cafe, located on West McCoy Lane, across from company headquarters.
Hardy converted one of its warehouses in the industrial park into a 4,000-square-foot restaurant serving its employees, neighboring workers, and the public.
The rustic façade is impressive with a succulent garden, fountains, and outdoor dining patio, but what’s inside is even more remarkable and unique in Santa Maria.
The airy restaurant is decorated like an airplane hanger, in a nod to Santa Maria’s strong aviation history.
Customers order food at the counter, and have a seat at a table, in a private booth, or in a chair next to the fireplace. They then pick up their made-to-order food a few minutes later when their name is called.
In Moxie’s kitchen, you won’t find a fryer (no burgers and fries here), trans-fats, or soda fountain.
“We’re very much into healthy living. We promote that all we can,” said Jay Hardy, president and founder of Hardy Diagnostics. “To me, this is just one more step toward that goal—encouraging people to eat right.” Moxie Cafe’s motto is “Eat well … be well.”
The menu is full of fresh, wholesome salads, wraps, sandwiches, soups, juices, smoothies, and locally handcrafted Leo Leo Gelato.
The cafe’s signature rotisserie chicken is Mary’s Free Range Chicken, which is hormone free, antibiotic free, and air chilled.
In the few weeks that the cafe has been open, the most popular menu item has been the refreshing Chinese salad with chicken romaine lettuce, crispy lo mein noodles, fresh pasta, toasted almonds, green onions, shredded carrots, mandarin oranges, sesame seeds, and sesame-ginger dressing.
“The Chinese chicken salad has just been incredible. Everybody seems to like it,” Moxie Cafe’s general manager Ron Lovell said. “And using the free range chicken; it tastes great, and you know you’re eating something that’s really healthy.”
All of the salads are $7. Add $2 for chicken, tri-tip, or grilled salmon. All the dressings and sauces are homemade. And the sandwiches, at $9 each, are especially good.
I took children along on both of my visits. They raved about the Moxie Grilled Cheese, which is made with cheddar cheese, provolone cheese, tomato, and bacon on fresh-baked ciabatta bread.
I really enjoyed Moxie’s BLTA, which includes bacon, greens, tomato, avocado, a delicious basil aioli, and balsamic vinaigrette on your choice of ciabatta or a dark, seeded multi-grain roll.
The cafe also serves two $9 entrees: quarter-pound roast chicken, and certified Angus tri-tip.
Moxie Cafe offers four fresh-brewed China Mist iced teas ($2), or help yourself to a glass of purified water. (No all-you-can-drink sugary sodas here.)
“We put in a pretty elaborate water filtration system, so if you just like water with your meals, you don’t have to buy a bottle,” Lovell said. “It’s actually really good water.”
The hope is that Hardy Diagnostics employees and other workers will eat a healthful meal and feel energized at work for the rest of the afternoon.
“[It’s] just more of a natural way to eat, so that when you finish lunch, you can still be productive when you go back to the office,” Lovell added.
So what does Jay Hardy order at Moxie?
“I’m not a big meat eater, so I usually go for the salads, or the wraps. The wraps are really good,” Hardy said.
And the menu prices are really good, too, for the high quality and portion size.
“You want it to be a place where people can eat every day or three times a week; it’s got to be reasonably priced, quick, and it has to be delicious,” Lovell said.
Moxie Cafe’s consulting chef is Ryan Gromfin.
“We’re very, very pleased with what Ryan Gromfin has done because he put together our menu and our recipes and he’s very sensitive to people that want to eat healthy,” Hardy said. “The idea was to make healthy food tasty, and that’s a challenge. Sometimes that’s hard to do, but I think Ryan really pulled it off. I think he did a great job of it.”
In an email to the Sun, Gromfin wrote, “When Jay and I first spoke about the restaurant, Jay said he wanted a place for the local employees to be able to enjoy a reasonable priced, healthful honest meal.”
Additionally, the friendly staff works in full view of customers in an open kitchen.
“We wanted the public to see that we had nothing to hide, so we put the food right out in front for them to see,” Gromfin added. “Everything is made from scratch, no MSG, no processed ingredients, nothing to hide.”
Gromfin’s work here is not done. Moxie Cafe will unveil a full breakfast menu in the coming weeks.
Right now the cafe serves food Monday through Friday from 10:30 a.m. until 5:30 p.m. It is open at 7:30 a.m. for coffee and juice.
Local business leaders are encouraged to reserve one of Moxie’s two conference rooms—or the whole restaurant afterhours—for conducting business meetings in a setting that serves healthful food. The rooms are equipped with projectors, screens, whiteboards, and conference telephones.
Eat here and stay well connected; no surprise that the dining rooms are fully equipped with Wi-Fi and charging stations. Word is getting out about Moxie Café—the lunchtime crowd lines up by noon. So, I recommend arriving late-morning or mid-afternoon.
Everyone I talked with was thrilled that Moxie Cafe is here.
“We have a mission statement,” Lovell said. “It’s ‘Promote healthy living—make lots of friends.’ And I think Jay has made more friends in the last few weeks.”
Sun wine and food columnist Wendy Thies Sell can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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