So Natural

Luvina Sabree holds the scissors at Wednesday’s second ribbon cutting ceremony hosted by the Harker Heights Chamber of Commerce. With Luvina Sabree are, from left, Jameel Sabree Jr., Arabia Sabree and Jameel Sabree.

The Harker Heights Chamber of Commerce seldom sponsors two ribbon-cutting ceremonies for the same business, but in the case of the newly transformed So Natural Organic Restaurant and Market, it happened again Wednesday.

In response to the question of why two ceremonies, Gina Pence, president and CEO of the Heights Chamber, said, “This is a one-of-a-kind restaurant and family that’s been through the experience of ‘Restaurant Impossible Ambush,’ and it’s not the place it used to be. Neither is Harker Heights because of this kind of attention from a national television network.”

The Chamber Ambassadors decided to meet Wednesday for lunch and celebrate with the staff of the eatery, experience the new menu and get a closer look at the refurbished location.

The first ribbon cutting was in October 2013.

The transformation of the So Natural Organic Restaurant and Market in Harker Heights is all due to a desperate plea from Ayana Sabree, the oldest daughter of Luvina and Jameel Sabree, who opened the business because they were passionate about healthy food.

The plea went to Chef Robert Irvine, host of the popular Food Network television show “Restaurant Impossible Ambush,” out of Ayana’s concern that the family had no restaurant experience and that they had quickly fallen into debt and could not afford to hire staff outside of their own family.

Those who viewed the “Restaurant Impossible” show on April 20 saw how Irvine handled that issue by teaching the Sabree family efficient operating procedures and how to turn their OK-tasting healthy food into great food that just happens to be healthy.

The ambush actually began at the Field House Gym, a few doors away from the eating establishment.

“This was all under the premise of a trip to the gym because they had stopped selling our frozen meals,” Sabree said. “We were led to believe we were meeting with an investor who was interested in making the food available again at the gym.”

The person they met with was not an investor at all but Chef Irvine and his crew from “Restaurant Impossible Ambush.”

Sabree said, “We were ambushed and didn’t have a clue as to what was about to happen. All we knew is that we were standing in the presence of Robert Irvine. In fact, he was exercising in the gym and we didn’t even see him at first.”

As the Sabrees walked by, he shouted, “Hey!” and after screaming with delight for a few minutes, a sense of relief came over Luvina.

“I figured out that everything was gonna be OK and that it was meant to be,” she said.

The ambush was a secret even held by their daughter, Ayana, who had known about it and had been interviewed by the television crew. When her mom saw the interview on the show, she asked Ayana when she had been videotaped. Ayana said, “Don’t worry about it, mom.”

Lacy Jennings and her husband, Craig, are owners of the Field House Gym and provided space for people to watch the viewing of the show on April 20.

“We had been making up plenty of stories because Lavina was curious and had lots of questions about this new investor. My husband, Craig, did a great job and I’m glad he did the talking,” Lacy said.

Lloyd Jackson, a staff member at The Field House Gym, said several people had mentioned they had seen the gym on television and that’s pretty huge.

“It could have been one of the seven or more gyms around this area but they chose us and that will have a positive outlook on the gym,” Jackson said.

The family and the media were not privy to the construction process. The media were also not invited to the official opening of the restaurant when the renovation was completed.

Through social media, the show’s producers had invited volunteers to the opening and had such a huge response that several had to be turned away. Fifty people were selected to fill the tables at the grand opening.

“The flow of customers has been steady but the crowd we had the night of the viewing of the show has not been matched,” Sabree said.

At this point, the lunch crowd is always larger than the dinner crowd, Sabree said.

“We don’t have a precise number as of yet as to the number of customers, but we’ve only been open less than a month,” Sabree said. “Several customers who have visited us say they came because they did see the show.”

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