Marco Island has its first Blue Zones restaurant, and what could be greener than that.
On Tuesday afternoon, just before diners started filtering in, leaders of the Blue Zones Project Southwest Florida gathered with the staff of CJ’s on the Bay at the eatery in the Esplanade, to present the restaurateurs with their Blue Zones Approved certificate, and cut a celebratory ribbon – a blue ribbon, of course.
CJ’s is the first restaurant, and the first organization of any type on Marco Island, to earn Blue Zones certification. Brought to Southwest Florida through sponsorship by NCH Healthcare System, in collaboration with Healthways and the national Blue Zones organization, Blue Zones Project is a community-wide well-being improvement initiative designed to make healthy choices easier through permanent changes to environment, policy, and social networks. Blue Zones employs evidence-based methods to help people live longer, better lives.
Getting more vegetables and less meat into your diet is one of the nine guiding principles of Blue Zones, whose creators looked at where on the planet people live the longest, and seeks to replicate their strategies and techniques. Called the Power 9, the list Blue Zone organizers have developed includes number five, the “Plant Slant – put less meat and more plants on your plate.”
CJ’s has not eliminated the favorite dishes that attract carnivores and pescatarians to the restaurant, but they added a number of new dishes, denoted on the menu with a blue checkmark, and adjusted some of their preparation. One example is the whipped cream on top of the fruit cup offered at the ribbon cutting, now made from goat milk yogurt.
“We were really close to meeting Blue Zones requirements already,” said co-owner Curt Koon, the “C” in CJ’s. “We had to change maybe seven options.”
Dishes added to the menu include the “PLT,” a portabella mushroom, lettuce and tomato sandwich, topped with avocado coulis on whole wheat toast, and the charred veggie stack, with thick slabs of Vidalia onion, portabella, zucchini, jalapeño and vine-ripe tomato flash marinated with red wine vinaigrette and piled on a red pepper and veggie-infused polenta cake.
“And it’s not just about the food,” added Koon. “It’s a social thing too, and we’re a social place.” CJ’s won points for being dog-friendly and tobacco-free, and offering a bicycle rack to encourage patrons to leave their cars at home.
He and general manager Laura Owen gave credit to executive chef Nick Donatelli for many of the inspirations that led to creating dishes that taste good as well as being good for you.
“If you make the healthy choice the easy choice, people are more likely to make that choice,” said Blue Zones’ Project Southwest Florida executive director Deb Logan. “CJ’s is implementing best practices to help make healthy choices possible. You can still get those French fries, but this way more people will choose to eat healthy.”
“CJ’s and Blue Zones Project are a natural fit,” said David Longfield-Smith, organization lead for Blue Zones Project Southwest Florida. “I was really impressed with the atmosphere we found here. Some businesses are really top down, but here, all the employees feel like owners,” invested in the restaurant’s success.
“Everybody on Marco Island recognizes CJ’s as a destination, he said. “The name ‘heart of the rock’ could not be truer.”
A cluster of CJ’s employees joined Donatelli as he cut the ribbon with oversized scissors, along with Marco Island city councilors Charlette Roman and Howard Reed, chamber of commerce president Alex Smith and executive director Dianna Dohm, and Jack Wert, executive director of the Collier Visitors Bureau, happy to be part of Blue Zones’ expansion onto Marco Island.
After the ribbon cutting, the guests sampled some of the new healthful food offerings, including CJ’s hummus plate with spicy sauce and, for the unreconstructed meat-atarians, miniature beef Wellington, along with libations including frozen watermelon daiquiris and a variety of Moscow Mules.
For more information about becoming a Blue Zones-certified organization, contact David Longfield-Smith at 239-248-9154, or visit bluezonesproject.com.