When the COVID-19 pandemic caused the temporary closure of their four Pura Vida restaurants early in 2020, Jennifer and Omer Horev didn’t panic. Instead, they pivoted to thoughts of how to expand their restaurant group.
“We immediately started looking at how to grow our app business and create a contactless experience,” Jennifer says. “Our company puts an emphasis on staying really positive, and we wanted to create something to keep our team and customers safe. It’s been met with a terrific response. Our delivery business really took off.”
Such a strategy is among the many reasons why Pura Vida is a popular dining experience in Miami hotspots that include South Beach and the Design District. True to its name, Pura Vida’s plant-based menu puts an accent on choices for a lifestyle that’s equal parts simple and healthy, with dishes that range from the Signature Acai Bowl to a Poke Salad that includes green cabbage, kale, sunflower seeds, and wild ahi tuna. The latter is also an example of how the Horevs seek to design a balanced menu that puts an emphasis on vegan and gluten-free choices, while also offering protein choices that convey a healthy-living vibe. Their freshly made juices, meanwhile, are available at several Equinox Fitness clubs throughout Miami.
Pura Vida is part of the quick-service category known as fast casual—though these upscale takes on fast food represent less than eight percent of the $863 billion earned by all U.S. restaurants in 2019, they’re the darling of the industry, growing more than 500 percent since 1999. Omer, meanwhile, isn’t focused on those statistics—rather, from the look to the locally sourced, often organic ingredients, he says each Pura Vida menu item has been conceived to upend notions of what “fast-casual” dining means. “Someone will order avocado toast for breakfast or the Mango Salad Bowl for lunch, and we hear it all the time: ‘How is this a fast-casual restaurant?’” he notes. “Our concept and brand are more focused on luxury in that way, and we think about every element as part of a well-rounded experience, from the food and the aesthetics to the app and the packaging.”
Likewise, sustainability plays a role in each decision. Omer recites the availability of local ingredients with ease, from blueberries April through June to the arrival of Brussels sprouts in November—not only for their easy access, but because “the less transportation to get to us, the better for both local growers and the environment,” he says.
Researching choices in recycled packaging, meanwhile, could be a full-time job. “We’re crazy about the details and experience,” Omer adds. “When we made the decision to switch from plastics to paper, the straws alone became a challenge. You can’t serve iced coffee with a paper straw—halfway through the beverage, it’s a disaster. Finally we hit on agave straws, which are sourced from Mexico and made from the fibers of agave plants. They cost three or four times as much as plastic, but they answer all our questions.”
Married since 2014, the couple says their roles in Pura Vida aren’t clearly defined, rather, they look to each other’s strengths. “I’m good at executing things, and Jenn is very creative,” Omar explains. Jennifer’s responsibilities include the design of each location, which differ in subtle ways to avoid a restaurant-chain mindset among employees or Miami locals.
That’s especially true of Pura Vida’s Design District location. Positioned near high-end labels that include Harry Winston, Givenchy, and Cartier, the café is crafted in welcoming tones of whitewashed brick and blond wood, while a pergola-accented entrance is meant to feel more like a living room than a restaurant.
“It’s a big space, but I wanted it to feel cozy,” Jennifer says. “In Miami there’s a focus on a vacation lifestyle. We’re highly local, but I wanted people to feel like they’re on vacation while they’re here.”
The Horevs opened their fifth Pura Vida location in mid-October, on Miami Beach’s West Avenue. Announcements for additional openings further north, in Aventura and West Palm Beach, are coming soon. Ultimately, while running a restaurant group can be complex and elusive, especially in these times, the couple is relying on their instincts. “We view this not as a restaurant, but more as a lifestyle brand,” Jennifer says. “We’re creating a community of people who value quality and health, and with every choice we make, we want to do it better than everybody else.”