First Bite: The Protein Bar and the Fast-Casual Concept

First Bite: The Protein Bar and the Fast-Casual Concept

What: The Protein Bar- a fast casual, hyper healthy eatery.

Where: Multiple locations in Denver and Boulder.

Pro: The Protein Bar goes above and beyond in terms of providing healthy lunch and breakfast options. Everything that comes out of their kitchen is meticulously constructed for optimized health benefits. It makes for clear conscience eating without any of the work.

Con:  With Denver being one of  the fast-casual capitals of the world,  The Protein Bar might need to step it up the taste department. There are plenty  of great tasting options though, like The Ivy Bar-ritto, which was very well balanced and didn’t feel ‘diet’ at all. Plus for how many health benefits you’re receiving, sacrificing a little taste might be worth it, for some.

First Bite: The Protein Bar and the Fast-Casual Concept
Protein Bar employees working to keep up with the lunch rush. All photos by Glenn Ross

Over the last twenty years, Colorado has quickly become the home of  many fast-casual brand names. Chipotle, Noodles & Company and Smashburger are a few that call our wonderful state home. Some would even argue that the fast-casual concept really came to life here in Colorado. So what is it about this concept and our lifestyle that meshes so well? Is it because we are too laid back for our own good? I am pretty convinced it has to do with our affinity for yoga pants and refusal to remove our clip-in bike shoes. No one really cares what you wear or what you look like when you walk into a Chipotle, as long as you don’t hold up the line . Or does it have to do with the perceived sense of health and nutrition that most fast-casual concepts provide? Because yeah, if you order a naked burrito bowl with veggies and no sour cream, you might clock out at 500 calories, but that 10 lber that is literally bursting through the tortilla is way worse than anything at McDonald’s. Still, we have the option to choose and that makes us feel better. But you’d think that with our city’s booming restaurant scene that is chef-driven and low-cost and laid-back friendly, Coloradans wouldn’t get so excited about another fast casual opening. Nope.

Enter Protein Bar, another fast-casual eatery that takes healthy eating to the next level. I stopped by the place during the soft opening of their Union Station location and the place was PACKED. Granted, they were giving out free food, but there were lines out the door almost all morning long. The franchise, created by Matt Matros, is originally from Chicago, but when they decided to expand, Colorado was a no-brainer.

First Bite: The Protein Bar and the Fast-Casual Concept. Photo by Glenn Ross
Matt Matros, CEO of Protein Bar.

“I love Colorado. Everyone is so nice and patient here. We wanted to make Denver our second market sooner, but we had to be patient.”  explained Matros

With my own burning questions of our fast-casual affinity, I asked Matros why he chose Colorado specifically.

His response was quick and calculated. “For three reasons. 1. the education level of the demographic. 2. level of activity and fitness 3. 300 days of sunshine.” explain Matros

It seems that the positive stereotypes for Colorado and its inhabitants ring true even for businesses. What I gathered from that was that fast-casual works because we are 1. smart enough to have a conscience understanding of what we put in our bodies, so regular fast food doesn’t fly, 2. we are active and have a dedication to fitness so we want fuel, not just food 3. It’s beautiful and sunny so businesses actually do want to spend time here. Granted, Matros and the Protein Bar are attempting to differentiate themselves, so his response doesn’t apply to all other fast-casual owners, but it’s interesting to see what motivates these companies to choose us.

Detailed menu and nutrition list at Protein Bar. Photo by Glenn Ross
Detailed menu and nutrition list at Protein Bar. Photo by Glenn Ross

But, The Protein Bar isn’t just here because it’s fast-casual. It does really speak to our demographic and attempts to offer something unique. So, rather than the perceived health and control you might have at other fast- casuals, PB does offer incredibly nutritious food that is really meant to feed the body. Matros told me that if a customer decided to eat every meal in a day at Protein Bar and chose the highest calorie option, you’d still only consume 1,570 calories. Which is a pretty big deal, since most restaurants can barely keep anything under 500 calories.  And if calorie counting isn’t enough, Matros claims that two of  his employees have lost over 100 pounds, just because they started to have their meals at work.

It definitely is refreshing to see that a fast food company is attempting to sell a product that is designed to benefit you. Everything about their menu is transparent in terms of what goes in your food and what it’ll do for your body. Also when I asked where their ingredients came from, his response was pretty detailed, and the majority of the food is local and organic. So if the fast-casual concept is here to stay in Colorado, then it’s nice to see that it’s coming in with care, thought and craft. I’d still like to see more people get involved with our local restaurants, but for now, our yoga pants and bike shoes revolution will live on.



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