While I’ve already chowed down at Happy + Hale five times within my first two months at Duke, I recently got to speak with the brand's co-founder Tyler Helikson (and try some more items on their menu, of course).
Spoon: What was your inspiration for creating Happy + Hale?
Tyler: Happy + Hale was born on a street corner in downtown Raleigh, on a tricycle selling fresh pressed juice and a golf cart selling salads in April of 2013. The goal was simple: to give people access and an option to eat healthy food, which didn’t really exist in downtown Raleigh two to three years ago. From there, it blossomed into our first store in Raleigh (opened in June 2014), and now a store here in Durham. The goal with this store was to create a space where people can gather, eat healthy, and feel good about and empower themselves.
Spoon: What’s the story behind the name?
Tyler: "Hale" is Old English, and it means "in robust and good health." My personal health journey has been up and down. After graduating from NC State, I lost all my college weight and I felt the best I have ever felt. I knew I was at my ideal weight, ideal healthy feeling, and I knew that at that point I was also the happiest I had ever been because I felt in control of my body and in control of my world. Thus, Happy + Hale.
Spoon: Did you imagine you would be doing this while you were at NC State?Tyler: No, and I wish that I had because I could have started sooner. I studied communications and television production at NC State. I dabbled in television and video production after college, but I should have listened to the calling all along. With my mom in the restaurant business, what I learned most from her while I was growing up was hospitality – how to make people feel happy, and how to take care of them in a restaurant scenario. I should have listened to my upbringing and my intuition a lot sooner than I did.
Spoon: If you weren’t running Happy + Hale, what would you want to be doing?
Tyler: That’s such a hard question. I can’t really imagine my life without Happy + Hale. Honestly, this job, this baby that we created, enables me to do something that I love every single day. Whether it’s talking to people, marketing efforts, photography – there are so many things that I’m able to do. I guess if it wasn’t this, it would be something in which I could use my hands. Maybe I'd be making tables and chairs, but I have to be working with people in some way.
(At this point he turned over to two customers sitting next to us and asked), Ladies, would you say that Happy + Hale and the team here cares about you? (Needless to say, they responded with a resounding “Yes”).
That’s it. That’s it right there.
Spoon: What other initiatives do you have going on in conjunction with Happy + Hale?
Tyler: To be a place that serves food, for us that’s not enough. Running a business in this day and age, you have not only a corporate responsibility, but also a responsibility to your community, to your team members, and to the planet. We compost all of our food scraps, and all of our pre-consumer ware (bowls, cups, straws, etc.) is composted as well.In terms of yoga and fitness in general, we do a lot of outdoor yoga events over the summer. Yoga is all about self-discovery and the journey within, and so is food. A relationship with food is very similar to the relationship with your mind and body in the yoga world. We also do urban farming. We know a gentleman in Raleigh who has served as a huge inspiration for us. He was tired of getting in trouble with the law, and started farming in his neighborhood. Now he takes all of our post-consumer compost and food scraps, then turns those into organic soil. The goal is to buy back all of the produce they grow in the community to support them.
Spoon: What kinds of plans do you have for the brand in the future?
Tyler: We are opening up a store in Greenville, South Carolina. We'll be right next to a Lululemon store, which is a nice pairing. We plan to keep going after that. As long as we have the right person to run the store and the community is in need of healthy fuel, we will be there. Right now the southeast is our primary focus, but I would love to go out west as well.
Spoon: How can Duke students get involved?
Tyler: Well first of all, I would love more Duke students working here to connect with the community. We are always hiring great people with great energy. Also, potentially with volunteer efforts. We are helping to grow some products at the Durham Public County School system farm, where we are working with some kids there. I would also love to host more events here around Duke student activity groups, especially with the huge athletic culture here.
Next time you find yourself craving some fresh veggies, are looking for a change of scenery from your regular study spot in Perkins, or you're in need of some inspirational quotes (in the form of stickers on compostable food containers), head to Happy + Hale. You won't regret it.