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Staff photo by Erin O. Smith / The namaste bowl, Cuban pork bowl and Asian salad at Naked Foods.

What started as a side hustle cooking healthy meals for her personal training clients led Alison Oakes to a full-time gig running her Naked Foods restaurants in Chattanooga and Knoxville.

The Chattanooga location — a bright space on the ground floor of the Edney building in the heart of the city's Innovation District — offers a dine-in and carryout cafe menu, catering for events, and grab-and-go items. The restaurant also has a pre-order business that allows people to put in their order for healthy meals by Wednesday and pick them up on Monday at the store.

"We don't over-complicate the food," Oakes says. "We use simple, whole foods that aren't all muddled up."

The Cuban pork bowl — which features rice, black beans, roasted pork and cilantro — is her go-to dish for persuading healthy-eating skeptics, Oakes said. The barbecue chicken stuffed sweet potato is another crowd-pleaser. She has three words for anyone who thinks healthy food equals boring food.

"Just try it."

Naked Foods was born five years ago in Knoxville when her personal training clients struggled to add healthy eating to their lives, Oakes said.

"One summer I cooked for five clients," she says. "In two to three weeks, they were down 5 pounds, down 10 pounds. But it was too much work to make all those meals out of my home kitchen, so I had to stop — and they put the weight back on."

Her clients were eager to get her cooking again, they helped her pay to rent space in commercial kitchens. She spent about three years testing, learning and growing her knowledge of the business before she signed a lease on a place in Knoxville two years ago.

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Natural selection: Naked Foods brings healthy dining option to the Edney building in Chattanooga's Innovation District

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er personal training clients were her early testers. The recipes they liked became part of the menu. The ones they didn't, she ditched. The food is all free of gluten and soy, including the baked goods.

"Those are the most common allergens, so we just don't have them," Oakes says. "That way, no one has to worry about finding a gluten-free or soy-free item on the menu."

She also goes easy on the sugar, opting instead for healthy sweeteners. Dairy products are part of some meals, but they can be easily removed for folks who want to avoid them. And though meat is on the menu, there are also lots of vegetarian dishes, and dishes that can easily be served without meat. Most meals are $9 to $12.

Options for healthy meal prep services are growing across the city, with Vibrant Meals, Fresh n' Lean, Meal Prep Chattanooga, and Fit Plus Meals all setting up shop in recent years. NourishPoint also has two locations in Chattanooga. Southern Squeeze and Cashew offer vegan menus, and Vitality Bowls is expected to open a location in Chattanooga next year.

The growth of the local market for healthy food is good news for everyone, Oakes said. Traffic to her restaurant has been steady, with plenty of people from nearby office buildings becoming lunchtime regulars since she opened in January. Her biggest challenge in getting Naked Foods off the ground in Chattanooga has been staffing up to meet the demand. She'll have eight people working in the restaurant when she fills the spots she has open.

"Everyone needs to eat healthier," she says. "The more people want to eat healthier, the better."

Naked Foods

Owner: Alison Oakes

Address: 1100 Market Street

Website: getnakedfoods.com

 

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