Like many entrepreneurs might be inclined to do watching their children start a business, Albert Maykel Jr. and his wife Maggy had many opinions about what their son and daughter should and shouldn't do when they launched their Worcester restaurant, EVO Dining, in 2008.
After all, Albert and Maggy had been successfully running their own health food store, Living Earth, for nearly 40 years.
“After a while, we started to realize, 'This is their restaurant.' Why are we telling them how we would do it? If it was how we wanted to do it, then we should have done it ourselves,” Albert said. “I respect those two as professionals knowing a lot more about the restaurant business than I would ever know.”
And that respect is something felt among all four members of the Maykel family who are involved in EVO and Living Earth, each of which covers about 5,500 square feet and are situated on the same floor of the same building on Chandler Street in Worcester.
“I think you have different respect levels when you're family,” said Celeste Maykel-Zack, who owns EVO with her brother, Albert Maykel III. “You want to work it out when it's your brother or your mother. You don't want that tension, you don't want that stress, you don't want it to be uncomfortable. And you love that person.”
While Albert and Celeste both worked at Living Earth, along with their brother, Justin, the family said there was never any expectation for the kids to join the business.
Maggy said it was a pleasant surprise to her when Celeste chose to work at Living Earth before she opened EVO. And after he graduated from Johnson & Wales University in Providence, Albert eventually came back to cook at Sano Café inside Living Earth.
Demand for dinner was growing at the café, but because the store closed too early in the day to accommodate the dinner crowd, the Maykels decided to consolidate Living Earth and renovate half the store into what would become EVO.
The younger Albert said EVO's goal was to piggyback off Living Earth's commitment to natural foods and quality ingredients. They wanted to “stay true” to vegans and vegetarians who ate at Sano, while adding menu items for meat eaters and people with allergies and dietary restrictions.
“I always found that one of the hardest things to do when you go out to eat is find a place everyone can go to,” he said. “We did a lot of listening to what our customers were requesting … and just tried to find a menu that would offer something for everyone.”
Celeste said the staff is frequently given written tests on the meals, what's in them and what modifications they can make to them before they're served.
That kind of service is important at Living Earth, too, where employees, such as the store's manager of 30 years, Frank Phelan, can provide information about available foods and supplements.
The elder Albert said the store has changed only in magnitude since he and Maggy opened it after they moved to Worcester and found the city lacked a place to buy natural and organic foods. Whereas they used to travel across the country to find foods to sell, product has become more widely available, partially through major retailers like Whole Foods and Trader Joe's, that are helping validate natural and organic foods, he said.
But how does a small family store manage to stay ahead of Whole Foods? By quickly changing with the market without corporate red tape, Albert said. The Maykels said they originally sought natural and organic foods, but have also made a commitment to stocking products that are free of genetically modified organisms — commonly known as GMOs. Al and Maggy said they have eliminated several products that didn't fulfill that commitment and that Living Earth is now 98-percent GMO free. That's something larger retailers haven't been able to do.
Maggy said it's that commitment to health foods that has helped Living Earth maintain its longevity.
“We don't compromise,” she said.