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By SARA FISHER Staff Reporter The woman who created the sinful Mrs. Beasley’s bakery is finding that there’s life in a low-fat world. Nancy Fox is turning her latest venture, Tarzana-based Nancy’s Healthy Kitchen, into a mini-conglomerate with a line of wholesale items, the inevitable cookbook and a growing chain of restaurants, which debuted in Encino. “I originally got involved in low-fat cooking since my husband is genetically prone to heart disease,” Fox said. “It’s nice to show others what I’ve discovered.” But the popularity of Nancy’s creations is outpacing the company’s production capacity. Fox’s corporate headquarters and wholesale production facilities in Tarzana have been racing to process orders and meet the demand for her products for the last several months. The company’s restaurant business also has grown fast, expanding from one to three locations within a year. “The restaurant side of our business had to slow down a bit since we’re limited on resources and manpower,” Fox said, referring to the postponed opening date of her third restaurant, which is in Brentwood. “Our growth has been phenomenal, but we’re hitting barriers. So we’re looking for a strategic and financial investor that will help us move ahead in all areas but most of all with the restaurants, which is a new business for me. They’re a far cry from running bakeries,” she said. Fox is looking for a partner experienced in managing the daily operations and growth of the restaurants. While L.A. is home to a variety of eateries and bakeries that promote healthy (if not altogether low-calorie) eating, the results have been mixed. “There is a big call for health-conscious food we’re consuming tons of Snackwell cookies and healthy cooking is really hot,” said Laurie Burrows Grad, author of “Entertaining Light and Easy” and the food columnist for Buzz magazine. “However, when it comes to eating out, people may be more inclined to go to another type of restaurant where they can indulge a bit and just get the salad dressing on the side,” she said. Taste remains the priority, according to Samuel Klein, vice president of Santa Monica-based Franchise Business International, a consulting company for franchisers that also tracks restaurant trends. Restaurant owners who understand that, he said, are the ones destined to succeed. Fox appears to fall in that category. The woman behind Mrs. Beasley’s Muffins and Gift Baskets and the ubiquitous mini-muffins of the 1980s is known as a creator of decadent baked goods and artery-clogging chocolate muffins. “Home-style baked goods like those were unusual back then,” Fox said. “And putting them in a gift basket was unique. The entertainment industry which is always looking for something new was quick to pick up on them, and things really took off.” After expanding the Valley-based business to multiple retail outlets and a franchise store, Fox sold Mrs. Beasley’s a name she selected because it evoked a countrified, home-style image to an investment company in 1990 because she wanted to spend more time with her two young sons. She continued to participate in product development until she launched her new venture. “As I tried to get my family and myself to eat healthy foods, I kept on feeling deprived everything good for you was so boring,” said Fox. “I just thought that I can’t be the only one out there who feels like this.” Over the years, Fox got such strong positive responses from family and friends to her low-fat experiments in the kitchen that she finally decided to reenter the industry. Fox opened the first Nancy’s Healthy Kitchen restaurant and bakery in Encino in 1994. At the same time, she released the company’s first wholesale product through her commercial kitchen a line of pre-packaged, low-fat cookies to high-end stores. Since opening, the restaurant has cultivated a dedicated following by serving low-fat versions of comfort food such as mashed potatoes and sloppy joes, cheesecake and cinnamon rolls. Nancy’s Healthy Kitchen opened a second location in Beverly Hills in May and is next expanding to the Brentwood site, where it is slated to open in the first quarter of 1998. Fox says Nancy’s Healthy Kitchen has an added draw: it attracts famous faces. Kirstie Alley, Tom Arnold, Jodie Foster and Howie Mandel are restaurant regulars, she said. Nancy’s Healthy Kitchen’s wholesale activities include the cookies, which are sold at high-end stores such as Neiman-Marcus and Macy’s. “Her cookies are very, very popular,” said a Neiman-Marcus employee in the Epicure department. “Customers come in and ask for them by name. We’ve been reordering them steadily for the last three years.” Industry watchers believe that health-conscious eating is a shift in lifestyle rather than a fad. “We’re definitely seeing growth in the health-food industry and in health consciousness every year,” said Mary Scott, executive editor of Natural Food Merchandiser, a trade publication. “Interest in these products is no longer just in specialty markets like it was a decade or two ago. It has entered the mainstream.” Of course, people still need a little fat in their lives, and therein may lie the key to Fox’s success. “I think that the obsession with strictly fat-free foods we saw a couple of years ago is over it created too much deprivation and too many goods that tasted like cardboard,” Fox said. “But I think that people in L.A. have now shifted to a happy medium, and low-fat is the way to go. People are discovering that you can have a healthy lifestyle and get the taste you want.”

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