GARY — John Allen was working on rental properties in Gary when he realized there were few places in the neighborhood to grab a healthy lunch.
"I'd eat Portillo's or get a big burger and then try to find something healthier the next day, like tuna fish sandwich," he said. "I couldn't even find a tuna fish sandwich. Most of the places that cater to urban areas focus on convenience or simplicity. A lot of the food is unhealthy because of the way it's prepared, or the quality is so low they want to reach a certain price point. The individual restaurants aren't necessarily bad, but fast food, like everything else, is unhealthy in excess."
Wanting to do something about a food desert with few options for fresh nutritious meals, Allen opened Foody's Restaurant at 621 W. 25th Ave. in Gary's Midtown neighborhood.
"Basically the theme of the restaurant is, things you can't get in an urban area," Allen said. "It's either a premium version or healthier, like a salmon burger, a pastrami sandwich with turkey, or burger with 90 percent lean sirloin instead of 70 percent lean ground beef."
Allen had long enjoyed cooking and went to ArtHouse: A Social Kitchen to learn about the business side of operating a restaurant. He found a former pizzeria across from the Theodore Roosevelt College and Career Academy and not far from Michael Jackson's childhood home that he bought in a tax sale. It's a small space with a counter where customers can order and a bench where they can wait for their food. They're encouraged to call ahead or order online.
The carryout restaurant's menu includes a veggie stir fry, a house salad, shrimp gumbo, a turkey burger, a veggie burger, a fish burger, sweet potato fries, and the top-selling salmon burger. It's free of MSG, antibiotics, hormones, and pork. The hot dogs are kosher and halal with no fillers, artificial colors and flavors.
Foody's also uses high-quality ingredients like brioche buns made of whole wheat.
"Everything's low in fat and sodium," he said. "All our veggies and fresh and organic and we try to use local suppliers, like with the broccoli and the cauliflower."
Foody's has caught on, especially with Midtown workers looking for somewhere to grab lunch during the week, including teachers at the high school across the street. Allen has promoted the business through online delivery services like DoorDash, Uber Eats, and Grubhub.
It's been a draw for people throughout the city because of its unique offerings, and he's been surprised at how many people have ordered the veggie stir fry.
"It offers more variety than the mainstays," he said. "I can get fresh fruit like pineapple in the summer and sell it out with no problem."
The restaurant, which also caters events with up to 50 people, has been approaching profitability much faster than Allen expected in his business plan, and he's looking at adding a patio for outdoor dining this summer, and eventually a dine-in area. He hopes to partner with fellow ArtHouse graduates to open more restaurants in the city.
Foody's is open from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. Tuesday through Thursday, and from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Friday and Saturday. It's closed on Sunday and Monday.
For more information, visit foodyscarryout.com or call 219-999-9866.