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INDUSTRY cause birthdays are meant to be celebrated any time we want. “I would say the peanut butter Oreo milkshake [is my favorite],” Ellis muses. “And I would probably go with the Fat Mataes to pair with it. You can’t go wrong with that: chicken fingers, mozzarella sticks, bacon, all topped with cheese fries.” “I would have to say the banana Nutella milkshake with a Fat Soprano,” Mark counters, “mozzarella sticks, chicken fingers, marinara sauce, and mozzarella cheese fries on top. I’m Italian, and it’s like a chicken Parm on steroids.” Diners who want salad can get one, but it won’t be like any rabbit food they’ve ever seen or eaten before. In fact, in true Munchies fashion, they’re coming fully loaded. “I love our Caesar salad and I think it’s one of the best in town,” Ellis reveals. “There’s something for everybody. If you want a chicken Caesar salad that’s fresh, we’ll deliver that to your house at 2:30 in the morning, too. There’s not really any limits on what we serve.”

ness for Nista after bailing on banking. He and two other UNCW friends—who also decided they were not pursuing the careers they truly wanted—rallied together to open Fuzzy Peach in 2010 (just across the street in Racine Commons). Nista and company grew a chain of 17 franchises between four states before selling them in 2014. “I left when we sold Fuzzy Peach and moved to California,” he continues. “I became a restaurant consultant, and Clean Eatz was one of my first clients.” Nista became more involved and invested in the Clean Eatz brand when he became a chief operating officer and moved back to the Port City from San Diego. He opened Clean Eatz in Monkey Junction; then in West Virginia; most recently in Goldsboro; and he’s preparing to open shop in Jack● Above: Clean Eatz’s tuna bowl puts healthy decasonville, NC, too. Raleigh, Charleston, dence at the forefront of every palate. The restaurant Charlotte, Myrtle Beach, Fayetteville, is partly owned by Jason Nista (right), along with Greenville all are part of a growing list Don and Evonne Varady. Photos by Lindsey A. Miller of cities across the southeast to host Photography the Clean Eatz franchise. “There’s a lot of opportunities in the smaller cities for owner operators to run a restaurant,” Nista tells. “We’re up to 50 commitments at this point, and we’re thinking we’ll be up to 30 or 35 stores by the end of Clean Eatz the year, and . . . have about 70 stores by the end of 2018.” Monkey Junction, 5916 Carolina Beach Rd.. • (910) 769-9596 No curriculum or specific class in school could have really prepare 203 Racine Dr. • (910) 452-3733 Nista for “the real world.” But college degrees—no matter how genMilkshakes, fried Oreos, piled-high sammies might be found at eralized—extracurriculars, campus and community organizations can Munchies, but around the corner on Racine Drive, it’s another story span multiple disciplines and set the stage for any endeavor. (or menu) at Clean Eatz. Actually, another UNCW alumni is serving “The opportunities are there; it’s just a matter of taking those opup fast, healthy and tasty foods, with emphasis on method and mod- portunities and running with it,” Nista explains, having no regrets in eration. Clean Eatz founders Don and Evonne Varady started their studying financial management and joining entrepreneurial clubs. He business in 2011. When 31-year-old Jason Nista—a triathlete and found opportunities to connect with more people within the camIronman competitor—met the couple, their interests aligned right pus community and Wilmington professionals at large. It’s fitting he away. works as a resident entrepreneur for the Entrepreneurship Club with “We got along immediately,” Nista says outside at a patio table in Cameron School of Business. the Clean Eatz courtyard one bright summer afternoon. “This is how “I think, even since the time I graduated, the university has beI eat naturally at home, so when I was able to get on board and get come more woven into the community,” he continues. “There are a involved from a business perspective, it was just a natural fit.” lot of professionals that are here in town, and want to take the time Nista is dedicated to Clean Eatz entirely. In fact, passion is the key and help the students as well. . . . It’s about the students taking the ingredient to longevity in the restaurant industry. “You’ve got to like first step, and being proactive and getting involved with community.” the food that you’re serving and believe in it,” he says. “For me, it’s What Nista has learned in his tenure is any business can start with easy to sell it, and it’s easy to come to work every day.” a great idea but it’s all about execution. Key elements, like patience Jason Nista grew up in the restaurant industry in Delaware, which and human-resource management, must be factored in, too. As well, started at the ripe age of 14. After he graduated with a degree in being a boss, who can do any of the jobs any of the time, helps. finance and accounting at UNCW in 2008, he went on to work for “We opened a store in Goldsboro, NC, this week, and Evonne and Citigroup banking. I were there cleaning the restaurant when opening it up,” he tells. “I never thought I would come back to the restaurant industry,” he “It’s still fun to do that. We really enjoy getting involved and watching divulges. “I didn’t like it growing up and I was escaping. So I got a other people’s dreams come true with this franchise. We’re still very degree [and] went into banking.” hands-on and involved in the day-to-day with the restaurants.” Surprise for Nista, he was not happy in the least. “It was terrible,” Naturally, a good restaurant must dish up its success by way of he recalls. “You report to work everyday in a cubicle. I missed the taste. Despite the South’s famed relationship with fatback, butter, bang-bang, you-just-don’t-know-what’s-going-to-happen-kind-of at- fried chicken, biscuits and gravy, Clean Eatz is hardly having a hard mosphere.” time selling folks on their brand of healthy grub. Though, there is a Opening Clean Eatz wasn’t the first foray into the restaurant busi- certain stigma Clean Eatz has to overcome wherever it pops up: Dispel the myth they only serve “rabbit food,” or healthy food doesn’t 12 DEVOUR | SUMMER-FALL 2017

Jason Nista

Devour Summer/Fall 2017  

Eat and drink across southeastern NC