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Saturday, Nov 26, 2022

Keeping it Healthy at Jan’s

Poppy Holguin remembers riding her bicycle after school from Huntington Beach High down Main Street to work behind the counter at Jan’s Health Bar alongside owner Jan Gaffney, who opened her healthy food emporium in 1972 as a small pop-up restaurant inside George’s Surf Shop.

Holguin worked at Jan’s from 1988 to 1991 and continued to frequent the store after graduating from California State University, Long Beach and working for an LA law firm doing business development.

“I’ve always lived in Huntington and was always a customer of Jan’s,” Holguin says. “In 2008, she would joke with me and say I’m done with this.

“Then the discussions got serious.”

After nearly four decades, Gaffney was ready to sell the business to someone who respected the brand and believed in its mission of making healthy food accessible and approachable.

That someone was Holguin.

“I had a passion for the product and lifestyle, and saw much potential in what it could be. So, I bought it,” Holguin stated.

That was in 2010. Applying her knowledge of business and marketing, she has since expanded the brand to four additional stores: Costa Mesa in 2013, Laguna Beach in 2015, Corona del Mar in 2017, and Irvine in 2021.

In 2018, she renovated the brand’s flagship location, expanding it from 800 square feet to 2,000 square feet.

“Jan was not about expansion, she just wanted to keep the focus on that one store. That was one of the challenges—how do you scale the business and keep the community vibe. My intention was to bring a piece of Huntington to surrounding communities,” Holguin says.

The concept worked. Jan’s Health Bar—with Holguin at the helm—is celebrating 50 years of serving a fresh take on sandwiches, salads, and smoothies.

True to Roots

The menu at Jan’s Health Bar remains true to its roots, offering nutritious items made with whole, simple ingredients. While new items have made their way to the menu, original offerings like the Peanut Butter Banana Date smoothie and the Tuna Salad Sandwich continue to be customer favorites. In fact, nearly half the menu is the same as it was in 1972.

“As a society, we’ve never been so unhealthy, yet the ‘health’ industry has never been bigger, wealthier, and trendier. True wellness lies in simple, whole ingredients,” Holguin says. “We’ve expanded the menu here and there but remain true to the brand’s original ethos. Honest, approachable food never goes out of style.”

According to Holguin, every year, even during the pandemic, she’s seen an increase in her customer base.

“Our customers love Jan’s, they share their experiences and that’s how we get more customers—but we also have to keep those customers from 1972 happy.”

Takeout’s Time

Regarding the pandemic, Holguin noted that “fast casual had it a lot easier than traditional restaurants. We had some challenges, but we were able to shift to curbside because 60% of our business is takeout anyway.”

Now, the challenges are the supply chain and managing costs. Jan’s offers a high-end product for a fast-casual restaurant and margins are small, plus takeout packaging is more expensive than ever.

Holguin is eyeing expansion into other communities including Long Beach, but wants to make sure she retains control of the business. “I have had opportunities to franchise, but Jan’s works because of the passion,” Holguin said. “I want to do it myself, honoring what we have grown in an intentional way.” She also paid tribute to her team members, many of whom have been at Jan’s since before Holguin purchased the business.

Menu Modifications

As to the menu, Holguin always notes what customers are ordering and tries to accommodate their modifications into the menu.

“Customers never order as is, they are always modifying. When people started ordering sandwiches without bread, I created the protein bowl, which is one of our most popular items.”

Two items I love that have been favorites at Jan’s for five decades: the Peanut Butter Banana Date smoothies, which is easily a meal in itself, and the Tuna Salad Sandwich with albacore white tuna salad (dressed lightly with mayo), lettuce, cucumbers, tomatoes, vegan bacon bits, sprouts, mayonnaise, mustard and spike seasoning.

Add an avocado, and you’ll enjoy the best damn tuna sandwich you’ve ever had.

Jan’s Health Bar has five stores in Orange County: Huntington Beach, Costa Mesa, Laguna Beach, Corona del Mar, and Irvine. For a full menu and more information, visit janshealthbar.com.

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