On March 25, Philipp and Cru Peri von Holtzendorff-Fehling's years-long journey became a reality. Mama Gaia, their startup fast casual, organic, vegetarian restaurant concept, opened for business in Memphis.
The couple was inspired to launch Mama Gaia after Cru was diagnosed in 2010 with Lyme disease, an uncommon and debilitating condition. In an effort to regain a normal lifestyle, she self-prescribed a dietary change (among other lifestyle changes) to all organic and plant-based foods. Soon after, their family noticed a remarkable difference in her health. Throughout Cru's experience, the family has found a lack of restaurants offering affordable organic and vegetarian menu choices that are served quickly. The duo aims to fill this gap with Mama Gaia, sharing their mission of cultivating a sustainable lifestyle through organic eating.
Mama Gaia, which means "Mother Earth" in ancient Greek offers quickly-served breakfast, lunch and dinner through a menu packed with healthy and delicious meals like pitas, quinoa bowls, salads, soup, desserts, kid-friendly items, and fresh juices and smoothies. More than 80 percent of items are vegan, and many are gluten free. The dishes are handmade to order using organic ingredients that have not been genetically modified or exposed to harmful chemicals. Inspired by the restaurant's name, guests will get a taste of wholesome ingredients like zucchini, eggplant, bell peppers, leeks, hearty mushrooms, asparagus, and homemade red pepper hummus and vegan pesto, which customers are already raving about. Dishes are perfectly paired with original sauces and vinaigrettes, such as Tzatziki, lemon vinaigrette, and a secret and vibrant Mama Gaia sauce. Central to Mama Gaia's mission is the affordability, as the majority of menu items are $10 or less.
"We know that fitting healthy eating into a busy lifestyle is challenging," says Philipp, CEO and co-founder of Mama Gaia. "It's difficult to find healthy, organic options on the go, so after seeing first hand how an organic vegetarian diet affected our family, we wanted to make this option a reality for everyone."
Days after opening, Mama Gaia has seen rave reviews, with more than 3,000 Twitter followers, 600 Instagram followers and 1,500 on Facebook. The Memphis community, one that is accustomed to deep-rooted traditions in pork barbecue, has offered highly positive feedback, confirming the trend and need for this unique concept. Even with no advertising dollars, the restaurant has been packed each day since opening. Patrons have noted how the entire experience has been positive from beginning to end—from the thoughtfully designed interior and the staff's attention to excellent service to enjoying dishes prepared with ingredients of the highest quality.
Philipp and Cru are 100 percent committed to a sustainable, environmentally friendly restaurant that makes the unavailable available to anyone. To them, Mama Gaia is about being good stewards of their employees, customers, partners and community, as well as making the world a better place. That is one reason they opened the restaurant in Crosstown Concourse, a massive revitalization and reuse project that began in 2010 after the former largest Sears facility in the country sat vacant for over 20 years. And, as a Project Green Fork-certified establishment and the only B Corporation-certified restaurant in Tennessee, the Mama Gaia team abides by the highest standards and will make every effort to set them for the industry.
Philipp and Cru's career backgrounds came together perfectly to create the Mama Gaia concept. A native of Germany, Philipp is an entrepreneur by heart and a conscious business leader at the same time. He left a successful career in the corporate sector to dedicate himself to a cause he is very passionate about. He previously served in leadership roles at major corporations, including chief marketing officer of ServiceMaster and American Home Shield in Memphis; The Dallas Morning News; and T-Mobile. Cru, who also serves as executive chef for Mama Gaia, infused her passion for cooking with her passion for helping others live a holistically healthy, balanced and positive lifestyle. Classically trained in Germany at a Michelin Guide-starred kitchen, her mentor was Michelin Star-winning and widely renowned Chef Armin Karrer.
The von Holtzendorff-Fehlings created the Mama Gaia concept based on three guiding principles – health consciousness, ethical obligation and environmental stewardship. The pair partnered with two other experienced businessmen, Tom Coba (former COO of Subway Restaurants) and Paul Stringer, for this venture.
With the first location under their belts, Philipp and Cru have their sights set on future Mama Gaia locations in the Memphis area and beyond.
"Memphis is our home and the first place we wanted to launch Mama Gaia," says Cru. "We would love to open more Mama Gaia locations so many more people can benefit from delicious, healthy, organic food."