GRAMERCY — Fast food doesn't need to be greasy and fried. It can also come fresh from the greenmarket.
Organique, an organic fast-food restaurant and take-out on East 23rd Street just east of Park Avenue, is a restaurant that caters to New Yorkers who are on the go but also want to stay healthy.
"I wanted people to come in and buy things that are good for them,” said general manager Jela Miric Lalic, 41, who shares her business with two partners. “It’s fast, and it’s healthy.”
Lalic moved from her native Serbia to New York 13 years ago. She had worked as an engineer in her home country and briefly when she moved to Manhattan. But it wasn’t long before she moved into the food industry.
“I really wasn’t aware how important [eating well] was to our health,” Lalic explained. “I kind of developed a love for it.”
Lalic was with Union Market from the very beginning, allowing her to experience the process of launching a small business from soup to nuts. After three years there, she decided to give entrepreneurship a try for herself and opened Organique.
Now, four years later, the restaurant has a staff of about 50, she said.
Lalic is not a chef, but she found one who could take all of her concepts and turn them into a menu of soups, salads and sandwiches, among other dishes.
The items at Organique are made with flaxseed and coconut oils, as well as lots of vegetables, Lalic explained, and she gets much of her produce from the Union Square Greenmarket just a few blocks away.
Although Lalic prefers vegetarian and vegan dishes, she does stock meat for her carnivorous customers — as long as it's healthy and hormone-free, she added.
“I think it’s important to eat right first,” Lalic said. “I believe that we are supposed to have daily fruits, vegetables, beans, grains.”
The Gramercy location is currently the only Organique outpost in the city, but Lalic said she would like to expand, but wants to make sure all the kinks are fully worked out before she opens another restaurant.
Plus, the tough economy is taking a toll. The prices on the foods she brings into the restaurant are rising constantly and have been for the last four months, she noted.
But business is still strong. After the lunch rush on Monday, a steady stream of customers dropped in for late-afternoon salads and cups of organic coffee.
“I had a customer approach me once and say, ‘I have a problem. I can’t eat anywhere else,’” Lalic said with a smile.
Responses like that make it “worth all the energy, all the hours,” she added. “You build something. You do something, and if it’s received, it gives you energy to continue.”
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