Stealthy Healthy

Cris Bennett has been bringing Good Stuff to the South Bay for over 30 years

Written by Constance Dunn | Photography by Paul Jonason

Some people avoid healthy food because they fear it will be anything but fun or tasty. But dive into a warm plate of Good Stuff’s brown rice, black beans and egg whites topped with grilled chicken and a dab of pico de gallo, and one realizes this belief is deeply mistaken. Under 650 calories, the Mexican Protein is part of the popular eateries’ “Beach Body Fitness” menu, and one of many dishes that demonstrates owner Cris Bennett’s knack for making health-minded dishes that are quite scrumptious.

“I think we were ahead of the curve,” Bennett says of his earliest menus. A native Angeleno, Bennett knew at a young age that the restaurant business was his calling. His first eatery, a little place he opened in West Los Angeles in 1979, was followed by Hermosa Beach’s Good Stuff in 1980. From the start, Bennett served health-minded items like veggie and turkey burgers on whole-wheat buns, salads and fresh-squeezed juice. Not standard-issue fare back in the day, he admits, but the restaurateur was catering to a California style of eating that would soon become mainstream. “It wasn’t super popular,” affirms Bennett, “but we were in the perfect area for it.”

Serving up fresh and healthy fare is a pillar that’s guided Bennett through decades of  success in a fickle business. There currently are Good Stuff branches in Redondo Beach, Hermosa Beach, El Segundo and, most recently, at the Promenade on the Peninsula in Rolling Hills Estates. “My wife and I and the kids moved up here three years ago,” says Bennett of the new restaurant’s roots. Before that, they lived in Redondo Beach, and even though he and his wife would work at the restaurant all day, the family would dine at Good Stuff in Riviera Village all the time. Post move, he says, “We looked at each other and said, ‘Where are we going to eat? There’s nowhere to eat up here for a family with young kids.”

Identifying and fulfilling the local need for a restaurant like Good Stuff has yielded positive results for the restaurateur. Locals on the hill like the place for its all-access, something-for-everyone menu and pleasant environment, which includes a Good Stuff hallmark: a consistently cheerful staff. “It’s open all day and agreeable to all different age groups and demographics,” says Bennett. Anyone who’s lived in the South Bay for even a short spell has been to at least one Good Stuff, and knows that every restaurant is a bit different in design. For his newest branch, Bennett says, “We tried to make it really cool looking and kind of hip.” There are spacious booths, industrial roll-up doors and lots of soft blues, grays and sunlight. The look is tasteful, tame and modern.

Bennett credits designer Christine Vroom of Christine Kimberlee Designs for the look of the place. “She sculpted the way this place was designed, from the materials to the feel, everything.” The look might be different, and there might be a few more local craft beers on tap than at other locations, but the menu is consistent with other outposts, down to the universally popular Good Stuff California wrap—turkey, avocado, applewood honey bacon and Swiss cheese nestled in a spinach herb tortilla.

For Bennett, there might be something to all this health-minded eating. The hands-on boss, who knows all 150 employees by name and can usually be found working away at one of his concept’s locations, has been on a steady Good Stuff diet for years. This includes his current favorite, the 560-calorie Buffalo & Quinoa Scramble, a protein-packed menagerie of egg whites, red quinoa and vegetables that’s topped with a lean buffalo patty and a sprinkling of blue cheese. “I feel great,” says Bennett. “I feel healthy, and Good Stuff is a big part of that. I’ve been eating Good Stuff for 37 years now.”

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