Healthy Cuisine is going strong. We caught up with Ashley to do a Q&A about her experiences — and what else she has planned.
Ashley Fockler approached opening a business the same way she approaches her daily workouts — full steam ahead.
“I was young. I said, ‘Let’s do it!’ ”
At just 21 years old, Ashley and partner Mike Roberts were working in personal training when Mike had the idea to open a restaurant that sold only healthful food.
“Not knowing the 99.9 percent failure rate of restaurants, we sat down and came up with a menu together,” Ashley said, laughing. “We didn’t have a lot of money — it was just something we knew we could put our heart and souls in.”
The couple opened a takeout restaurant called BAM! Healthy Cuisine in North Canton, and despite that intimidating restaurant failure rate (actually closer to 60 percent than 99.9 percent), just celebrated their sixth anniversary.
Business is so brisk, they are contemplating moving to a larger site.
Q. Did you always love cooking?
A. My whole family are all awesome cooks. Thinking back, I’ve always cooked, baked, but until I opened the restaurant, I didn’t know I had such a passion for it.
Q. What do you cook at home?
A. Burgers, bruschetta. But I’m happy with some wine, cheese and bread.
Q. What surprised you about opening the business?
A. It’s not easy.A lot of things I had to learn the hard way. Hiring and firing — I never thought it would be such a stressful thing. And it’s such a challenge having to have your hands in so many different areas of the work.
Q. What do you wish you knew then that you know now?
A. I have a list!
Q. What advice would you give a 20-something who wants to open a business?
A. Your life will be totally different. You’d better be ready to work your ass off. There’s a lot of dedication needed. If someone calls off, it falls on you.
Q. What advantage did you have starting young?
A. You’re on 24/7. If I had children or was older when I started, it would have been much more difficult. But for me, it was perfect.
Q. What’s the best thing about running a restaurant?
A. The repeat business. When they tell you they enjoy the things you create. I’m a pleaser.
Q. You’ve accomplished so much, so early. Do you have additional goals?
A. Our location is very limited — no parking, no seating, no air conditioning, all working against us — so we want to move — stay in North Canton, but get something more accommodating for our customers.
And beyond that, we’d love to franchise. It never hurts to dream, right?
At BAM! Healthy Cuisine, you are not second-class citizens, with choices that amount to nothing more than afterthoughts.
If you’re not in the mood for meat, the BAM! menu offers a surprisingly diverse selection, such as the wrap stuffed with seasoned tofu, sautéed yellow squash, mushrooms, carrots and corn, Roma tomatoes and baby spinach, drizzled with balsamic basil vinaigrette. Or the warm rosemary-ciabatta roll filled with red pepper pesto, mozzarella, sautéed mushrooms, squash, alfalfa sprouts, spinach and avocado.
Ashley Fockler, owner of the North Canton eatery with Mike Roberts, took a hands-on approach to satisfying vegetarians.
“I went vegan a couple years ago for five months, just to see what that was like, and to be able to help people with ordering on our menu,” she said. “Pretty much anything on our menu can be turned vegetarian. I take pride in that.”
Diners can pick a sandwich, salad or bowl, then pick a protein — chicken, shrimp, tofu, veggie burger or ground beef. And everything is “customizable,” Fockler said.
“We have meat lovers to raw foods and everything in between,” she said. “If you need lower in carb or lower in salt, we can come up with something for you.”
BAM! just celebrated its sixth anniversary, and business is so brisk that Fockler and Roberts are looking for a larger space, hoping to add dine-in seating. Their business is takeout, although some customers opt to eat at the three umbrella tables crowded onto the sidewalk near the front door.
Everything is made to order, so it’s not “fast” food by any definition. In fact, it’s best to call ahead, because most items take 15 minutes or more to prepare.
Healthful recipes are the mandate here, which contributes to their popularity, but it’s the unexpected combinations that may be the secret to their success.
For instance, the garden vegetable pizza is topped with red sauce, spinach, onion, Roma tomatoes, green and red peppers, broccoli, mushrooms, corn and fresh green beans.
Green beans? Yep, and they show up elsewhere on the menu — check the Caesar salad and the salmon wrap.
Wraps are stuffed, then grilled (no oil) to eliminate that gumminess that plagues flour tortillas.
The best-selling Baja wrap is stuffed with meat, tofu or veggie burger, and brown rice, salsa, cheddar-jack cheese, banana peppers, romaine, secret “love sauce” and black bean purée.
Some of their sandwiches and salads are on sale at Carpe Diem coffeehouse in downtown Canton and at Kempthorn Motors.
They hope to expand that catering effort, plus sell their Power Bombs at more locations. That popular dome-shaped treat is made with oats and banana and dried cranberries and chocolate chips.
“I went around with a bucket and started throwing things in, and that’s what I came up with. I’ve altered it a bit over the years,” Fockler said. “The demand is crazy — we can’t keep up.”