What’s a born-and-raised California woman expected to do when she finds herself in a Midwestern city?
Heather Graves, a Top Tank top 10 finalist, has planted her roots in Topeka after eight years, and she stayed because she likes the city and the people. But she misses the easy access her birthplace offered to healthy eating through juice bars on every corner.
Graves hopes to use the Top Tank winnings of $100,000, offered by five Topeka businessmen to support a new downtown business, to open A La Carrot, a juice bar with a menu chock full of healthy offerings that will meet every need, from vegan to paleo to those just wanting to make good food choices.
“Whatever kind of diet you have going on, whether it’s a lifestyle plan or nutritional restrictions, I’d like to be able to serve that,” Graves said. “The reason I’m so passionate about it is I was overweight by the age of 9, 280 pounds when I was in high school. I have tried every diet under the sun. When I was 21, I just really started researching food and learning about it. I wound up losing 140 pounds through diet and exercise. It took me two-and-a-half years and it changed my life. I’m so passionate about changing other people’s lives, helping other people understand what I didn’t understand.”
She’s been lucky to have such a strong passion about two careers. Graves currently works as a hairdresser, another profession she loves. She’s also happy to be part of Topeka.
“I moved here from San Diego, it’ll be eight years,” she said. “I moved for a friend, and wound up staying and liking it and growing my business. The people here are so amazing, especially coming from a crowded big city, and sometimes people are too busy with their own lives.”
But the one “tough thing” about living in Topeka has been difficulty finding restaurants serving healthy foods. “There is no place for me to go to maintain my lifestyle,” she said.
Graves is learning about the business end of serving food, helped out by her boyfriend, Pedro Concepcion, who is well-known for his chef work in the capital city.
“I have the kind of the health background and the food knowledge, and I love to cook this way,” Graves said. “He knows about the food cost and the business side of it. It’s a really great combination.”
Graves plans to create a warm and open business so people who aren’t familiar with juice bars and that type of healthy eating will feel comfortable coming in and asking questions, she said.
“I really want to help people,” she said. “I’m going to have nutrition classes on First Fridays for what the community wants to talk about or learn about. I want to help people change their lives.”
She also plans to focus on sourcing as many items locally as possible, such as honey, bee pollen and yogurt. She’d like to include an area in the store where a small, indoor farmer’s-style market could be located.