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Hated veggie wins over CoreLife’s ‘zee


A long-standing relationship with Larry Wilson, founder of CoreLife Eatery, convinced Stevensville, Michigan-based operator Joyce Lunsford to sign on as the healthy restaurant brand’s first franchisee—that and a taste of beet lemonade, something Lunsford thought she’d hate.

“In our industry, more and more concepts are moving away from made-from-scratch and trying to simplify operations, and that’s not Core. They’re all about doing it the right way,” Lunsford says, adding she’s known Wilson for years and he kept updating her about progress on his restaurant concept. Last March, she visited a location with Wilson, and her development agreement was announced earlier this year. “I was just so impressed with everything about the concept.”

Lunsford operates about 50 restaurants today, including Pizza Hut, Sonic and Moe’s Southwest Grill, and her development agreement for CoreLife Eatery is for up to 50 restaurants over eight years. She has signed two CoreLife leases already in Grand Rapids, Michigan, and she’s visiting sites in Indiana and Detroit to scout as well.

Signing Lunsford is a coup for CoreLife, who called her in a statement “one of the best franchisees/owner-operators in the country…we are proud to have her as part of the team.”

There are six CoreLife Eatery locations in New York and two in Ohio, all corporate-owned. Construction is set to begin on Lunsford’s first CoreLife location, in Bucktown, a Grand Rapids suburb. CoreLife is marching ahead on its efforts to sign additional franchisees.

“I would never get into a concept if I didn’t have someone that I trusted and I have respect for,” Lunsford says. She also looks at new opportunities so she can promote employees. “I have people who have been with me for many years,” she says.

Joyce Lunsford

An unexpected love for beet lemonade and long-standing relationship with CoreLife Eatery founder Larry Wilson convinced Joyce Lunsford, above, a multi-brand operator based in Michigan, to take the plunge on this veggie-packed concept.

Lunsford has tried a number of concepts. Pizza Hut goes “way, way back, probably into the early ‘70s, and I still love pizza today,” she says. She was into Panera Bread very early in that concept’s life, in late ’98 or ’99, when the chain had only about 100 units. Lunsford’s group built out 22 Panera Bread cafes and subsequently sold them about five years ago.

She bought into Sonic about eight years ago, and then Moe’s Southwest Grill four years ago.

Why does she take chances on new concepts? “I’m not sure I would call it risk, but I am always out looking for what I think is a concept that would work well, that I would be proud to be a part of and the guest would enjoy it as well,” Lunsford says. “When things are genuine, it’s much easier to get involved with something.”

CoreLife was founded in May 2015 in Syracuse, New York, with a focus on greens, grains and bone broth. Dressings, broths and beverages are made from scratch every day in each location. The concept also touts profitability because of the simplicity of ingredients and “end-to-end use” of all vegetables, add-ons and proteins.

If Lunsford had seen CoreLife perhaps 10 years ago, she admits, she probably would have passed because consumer tastes weren’t in the right place then.

Lunsford herself was certain she didn’t want to try CoreLife’s beets. “I’m nearly 70 years old and I’ve never eaten a beet,” she declares about the blood-red root vegetable, but that changed when she visited a CoreLife and was told she had to try the beet lemonade. “As a courtesy I said I’ll drink it, and I have to say I held my nose. It was really great,” she says, and she was sold on her new brand.

“Taste is changing. People are looking to eat more healthy,” Lunsford says. “And I even had beet lemonade—so my god.”

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