John Mackey, who co-founded Whole Foods Market more than four decades ago, has long believed that food is medicine.
Now Mackey and several other former Whole Foods executives are bringing that notion to life, literally. Mackey, who retired from Whole Foods last year, last week launched the new concept Love.Life in Los Angeles, a full-service restaurant and bar serving breakfast, lunch and dinner.
Other Whole Foods execs joining Mackey in the startup include former CEO Walter Robb and former senior vice president Betsy Foster—the latter serves as president of Healthy America LLC and co-creator and president of Love.Life.
The menu, which is fully plant based, was developed by Executive Chef Brooks McCarty, who has also worked with raw-food champion Matthew Kenney’s concepts. Love.Life taps advice about healthful eating from science-based organizations, including the World Health Organization, American Heart Association and National Institutes of Health, but also the nutritional philosophies behind Blue Zones, Ornish Lifestyle Medicine and Pritikin.
At Love.Life, for example, oils, sugar and salt are used sparingly, nothing is deep fried and the focus is on whole ingredients that are minimally processed and optimized for health. Chopped garlic, onion and chives are left to rest for 15 minutes before use to maximize anti-inflammatory compounds, for instance, and cooked tomatoes—which have more of the antioxidant lycopene—are used in salads, rather than raw.
Pizzas, for example, are made with a fermented whole-wheat sourdough crust, or on a gluten-free chickpea crust, and might include toppings like Mushroom and Broccolini with leek, cashew ricotta, garlic and lemon zest.
There are bowls, like a Thai green curry bowl with marinated tofu, squash, shimeji mushrooms, rice and fresh herbs, and entrees such as baked mac and cheese with butternut squash, broccoli and garlic breadcrumbs; or a lentil Bolognese with mushrooms and garbanzo gemelli.
Guests with specific health needs can use a QR code on the menu to see the full nutritional profile of each dish, whether they’re looking to lose weight, reduce inflammation, limit sodium or treat certain chronic conditions.
“I have been passionate about healthy eating since the inception of Whole Foods and believe the food we eat is the most powerful choice we can make when it comes to health,” said Mackey in a statement.
But the restaurant is just one part of the three pieces that will make up the Love.Life umbrella brand.
Coming next year are medical and wellness offerings, yet to be explained, that will include an element of “culinary genomics,” which essentially means eating in a way that’s specific to your microbiome, or very specific health needs.
The wellness component might include “movement plans” or other evidence-based alternative therapies, according to the Love.Life website.
Mackey is reportedly a partner in the startup Healthy America LLC, which launched in 2020 and as of last year had raised $31 million for the Love.Life concept. He retired from Whole Foods last September.
In 2021, the company acquired a plant-based restaurant in Miami called Love Life Café. Some recipes have carried over from that cafe to the new iteration, including the veggie burger and smoothies like the Sunshine Spice and Almond Butter Bliss.
Earlier this year, the company also acquired a telehealth concept then called Plant Based Telehealth Inc., which focused on prevention and reversal of disease. That chain was rebranded as Love.Life Telehealth and, starting next year, will offer medical services promoting healthy behaviors (like eating a plant-based diet) out of physical offices as well as online. Appointments are available for $175 (30 minutes) to $350 (60 minutes) nationwide and in 27 countries.
The Love.Life location in Los Angeles is the first of what is expected to be multiple locations for the Austin, Texas-based company, though details on growth plans have not yet been revealed.
This story was originally published in WGB sister publication Restaurant Business.