Carolyn Webb, 07 December 2015

A growing health food chain at highway roadhouse stops is smashing the Australian tradition of super-servos offering little more than chips, burgers and meat pies.

Instead of french fries, the chain, called Oliver’s Real Food, serves lightly steamed beans with Himalayan pink salt.

Its alternative to kids’ Happy Meals is a Krackajak​ pack – a tray of sushi, organic sultanas, cheese, crackers and carrots.

The store’s meat and vegetable pita pockets, fruit smoothies, organic omelettes and fruit salads are prepared on site.

Coconut water and fresh fruit juices are sold instead of soft drink. The single-origin Peruvian coffee comes with either A2, almond or soy milk.

The shops even have sustainable bamboo furnishings, biodegradable cutlery and recycled paper napkins.

The Oliver’s brand, which dubs itself fast food, has been in Victoria for two years, and its first outlet in inner Melbourne opened on Thursday in Cook Street, Port Melbourne, on the in-bound city side of the West Gate Bridge.

It’s next to a petrol station full of chocolates, soft drink, pies and chips, and a soon to open Hungry Jack’s and Red Rooster.

Founder Jason Gunn is aiming to have 300 Australian Oliver’s stores open by 2025. The 18th opens in Baxter, south-east of Melbourne, on December 18. Mr Gunn is in talks to open in California next year.

He said the idea formed when he stopped at a motorway service centre in Wyong, NSW, while driving north from Sydney to his then home at Port Stephens. He whinged that the only food option was McDonald’s, and his sister-in-law challenged him to do something about it.

He mortgaged his house, borrowed $3 million and in 2005 opened his first Oliver’s next to the Wyong McDonald’s. And it took off. Last year the chain’s total turnover from highway outlets in Queensland, NSW and Victoria reached $35 million.

Mr Gunn said an interstate truck driver wrote to say the chain had changed his life. The truckie had given up junk food and started spending up to $80 at the Wyong Oliver’s stocking up on yoghurts, salads, sandwiches and sushi for his Melbourne to Brisbane hauls.

“He had lost a significant amount of weight, his blood pressure had come back in order and his eczema had cleared up,” Mr Gunn said.

The chain was succeeding “because there’s a real need in the marketplace for people to have a healthier choice”, he said.

Construction worker Jeremy Krojs​, 27, said healthier choices were good, although Oliver’s seemed “a bit pricier”.

He was amused to try a cup of steamed beans, and sipped an Antioxidant Red Miracle smoothie with ingredients such as raspberry, pomegranate, goji, rosehip and echinacea.

Mr Krojs​ used to have McDonald’s or KFC daily when driving home from work, but now tries to take a salad from home.

His workmate Darryl Piotrowski​, 29, sipped a green tea and said the store was “better than junk food. Just healthier, with a lot of obesity and whatnot around.” At work he often eats dim sims and pies from cafes, although he chooses water over soft drink.

He tries to look after his health but admits the junk food drive-throughs are convenient. “You don’t want to get out of the car.”

Extracted in full from The Age.