Flame Broiler Aims to Bring Healthy, Affordable Food to Tempe

by Chris Samuels

Southern California is known for a few distinctive things: sunny, temperate skies; health-conscious food; and miles of easygoing beaches.

Unfortunately, beaches aren’t coming to Arizona. Or reasonable temperatures in the summer.

What is coming, however, is a couple from California looking to bring something new to Tempe and the Valley of the Sun: healthy food at a low cost. On the eve of opening their first location in the Valley, Kevin and Julie Manquen sat down with the Tempe Chamber of Commerce to unveil the Flame Broiler, the newest members of the Chamber.

The Flame Broiler started in California in 1995, when founder Young Lee opened a restaurant that served healthy fast food alternatives, according to the chain’s website. Lee started work as a travelling businessman and became tired of eating greasy fast food, the only food available on the road that was affordable.

“[Lee’s] goal was to have a healthy option for people to eat,” Julie Manquen said. “He really believes that this food is the perfect meal to have. It’s got everything all packed into one little bowl.”

Since then, the chain has expanded and exploded all over California, with more than 175 locations in the state.

That saturation motivated the Manquens to move their business to Arizona. Having already owned one Flame Broiler franchise, they looked for a state that was more business friendly and wasn’t already exposed to the restaurant. They settled on Tempe and celebrated their grand opening March 8 on Priest and Warner, while starting to build their second location on Broadway and 55th St.

The couple was excited to bring the business philosophy of Lee to Arizona, and shared it with us as we toured their new location prior to the Chamber’s ribbon cutting.

“I think it’s always easier to find food that’s less healthy and cheaper,” Julie said. “I think there are options out there that are at are a little more expensive for healthy food and I think that’s nice about what we’ve found: really watching the quality but trying to keep our prices reasonable for our customers.”

The menu stays simple. Customers get a bowl or plate that starts with rice, then comes with a choice of beef, chicken or tofu. Steamed vegetables then go on top.

The main challenge of the restaurant is providing the nutritional benefit at a low price. In the food industry, cheap fast food is generally not healthy and healthy food is generally not cheap.

To change the paradigm, Flame Broiler seeks to keep operating costs down by keeping a strict top-down supply chain that is bought in bulk for every restaurant. The same chicken or beef that is used in California is bought here to assure quality and consistency. Every part of the operation is specially designed by the founder, Young Lee, to keep his commitment to his customer’s health.

Even the custom-made grill. Seriously.

“Operationally, the grill that we use is specially made, manufactured and designed for Flame Broiler,” explained Kevin Manquen. “It’s a different type of grill, so you can get a good char on the meat; it gives us the flavor that we’re looking for.”

The mission of Flame Broiler is bringing a healthy alternative to fast food, and it appears the Manquens are well on their way to introducing that to Tempe.

Let’s just hope they bring the weather with them as well.

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