The students in Nastasha McKeon’s plant-based cooking and nutrition classes loved learning how to make healthy food taste good, but what they were learning wasn’t making it into their lives outside of the classroom. So she got the idea to start Choice Superfood Bar & Juicery, an organic café that serves plant-based foods and juices.
“I taught them why the foods were good for them, and they loved it. Yet week after week, they came back and were not making better choices at home,” she says. “So when I inquired, I learned that the reason was it simply wasn’t convenient … showing them that healthy food could taste good wasn’t enough. It also needed to be convenient, so that’s really where the idea was born.”
She left a successful career in banking to pursue her love of nutrition, health and sustainable living by starting her company. She wanted to create a place where everything on the menu was healthy, so that it was impossible for people to make bad food choices. McKeon, 34, is the founder and CEO of Choice and lives in Vista with her three children. She took some time to talk about her interest in and passion for nutrition and health.
Q: Why was starting Choice Superfood Bar & Juicery something you wanted to pursue?
A: In my early adult life, I found myself with a great career in banking. I had great hours and made a decent income, but I wasn’t very happy. I decided to take a deeper look at my life in an attempt to find out where I found the most joy, outside of being a mom. I wanted to pursue a field that made me happy versus working for just a paycheck. It turns out it was in the break room. I would light up when people approached me with questions about the food I was eating. I loved sharing everything I knew, but even more, I loved watching people get inspired and adopt some of the ideas I was showing them. I remember one woman I worked with, who, after a couple of months of changing her eating, had gotten off of her insulin and reversed her type 2 diabetes. She was losing weight and happier than I had ever seen her. That’s what made me happy and I wanted to find a career or a future that involved more of that.
Q: Talk about the beginnings of your interest in nutrition and health. How did that start? Where did it come from?
A: I had a rough childhood and healthy food wasn’t something I had the luxury of knowing about early in life. In fact, food in general was scarce, especially anything that resembled health food. When I was 11, I lost my grandmother, who was a very important person in my life. She’d been diagnosed with an autoimmune disease and her prescriptions caused a heart attack. She was gone, and at 11 years old, I felt western medicine had failed her. As I was cleaning out her belongings in her home, I came across a book she had been given but never had the chance to read. It was all about food as medicine and how to heal yourself naturally. This was so foreign to me, but I was intrigued. That book, after the series of events that claimed my grandmother’s life, planted a seed. I didn’t have the right environment when I was a child to cultivate that seed, but later in life that seed began to sprout and eventually bloomed.
Q: What drew you to this field of study and work?
A: As I started to implement changes to the way I ate, I started to experience health for the first time. I never knew I felt bad until I experienced feeling good. I never wanted to go back and I couldn’t help but want to share what I was learning with the world around me.
What I love about Vista ...
I just moved onto some property out in Vista to fulfill one of my life goals of farming my own food. I love the neighborhood because I’m out on Buena Creek, surrounded by nurseries, farms and wineries. It’s just gorgeous out here.
Q: Why are health, nutrition and sustainable living important to you?
A: Health is important to me because I want to live my life to the fullest. When I feel good in my body and my mind, I have a better quality of life. Nutrition is a big part of a healthy life, but it’s not all nutrition, of course. I’m a believer in the mind-body connection, that what we fuel ourselves with both physically and mentally have a huge part in our overall health. As for sustainable living, I truly believe it’s my responsibility — and really, all of our responsibility — to protect this planet for future generations. I want my children’s children to inherit a healthy planet, and living sustainably is one of the best things I can do to ensure that I’m doing my part in protecting their future.
Q: What are your favorite juices and meals to make for yourself?
A: Most of the juice and meals I have these days are at Choice. I used to make most of the things that are now on our menu at home, long before we opened. … My favorite things are the Citrulicious Green juice, the Super Blue coconut tea, the Spicy Amor smoothie or Acai with PB added and the Coconut BaKon Cobb. I eat those almost daily! At home, I love testing new ideas and new recipes out too.
Q: What are your guilty indulgences?
A: Guilty indulgences would be Hu chocolate bars — highly addictive. And Miyoko’s double cream and chive vegan cheese; it’s to die for with some sliced Prager Brothers bread and a nice glass of vino. And I have a love affair with Thai food, so I indulge often.
Q: What have you found challenging about your work?
A: … The biggest challenges we face is managing our costs. We deal with organic foods that have a very limited shelf life, as we don’t believe in pasteurizing our product and compromising the integrity, and while that gives us a superior product, if not managed very carefully, can be terribly costly. So managing our costs and our waste has been vital to our survival in this business.
Q: What’s been rewarding about this work?
A: Every time I’m out and about and see someone with a Choice bottle in hand, my heart skips a beat. It’s incredibly rewarding to know that all of your hard work is helping people to be healthy. I’m always pinching myself just to make sure this is all real. It’s truly a dream.
Q: What is one thing people would be surprised to find out about you?
A: I can be very shy. I force myself to be outgoing and push through the shyness. Most people assume I’m naturally very outgoing, as I tend to rise to the occasion in social settings, but it doesn’t come naturally.
Q: Describe your ideal San Diego weekend.
A: It definitely includes surfing some fun reef breaks, hanging out with friends, hiking, tending to my garden, and dropping in on the Choice locations throughout San Diego to check in.