Fresh Fit Café: On the road to healthy living, one meal at a time

Published 9:30 am Friday, January 24, 2020

Steven and Tungaa Gawlinski will both admit they were out of shape and not living a healthy lifestyle a few years ago. However, after striving to eat a balanced diet, getting into the gym and supporting each other, the Gawlinskis lost weight, got in shape and opened up Fresh Fit Café in Nags Head.

The concept behind this one-of-a-kind clean-eats restaurant was simple: create a place where people with all different allergies and dietary restrictions could come and still find something they can and would like to eat.

The road to making this kind of restaurant possible was definitely not easy, which Tungaa touched on. She is originally from Mongolia, where her family grew up buying locally, farming and harvesting their own food. Tungaa was not exposed to processed food.

“When I came over [to America], I had a lot of health issues because my body could not agree with the food that was here,” she explained. Tungaa spent a few months in 2011 in the Outer Banks for college, where she met Steven.

A budding romance began, but was short-lived when Tungaa had to return to Mongolia to finish out her degree. Steven is not the kind to give up easily, however, and made a two-week trip to Mongolia to spend time with Tungaa. In 2012, the pair got married and started their lives together on the Outer Banks.

As great as their relationship was going, it seemed as though their worlds had collided on the food front. Steven was used to having sugary drinks and fast food, whereas Tungaa was having stomach issues with everyday dairy products. The couple admitted they were both overweight at the time, as well.

“We were both working a lot and started having a lot of back pain and sores,” Tungaa said. She began to get hives more often than not while they were out to eat. Together, the Gawlinskis decided it was time to take control of their unhealthy lifestyle.

Tungaa and Steven started working out at home, beginning their day with a workout video routine that they would do together. “We weren’t comfortable enough yet to go to a gym,” Tungaa said.

Eventually, the two started to lose weight and joined the Outer Banks Sports Club and together they lost 90 pounds. “We even got Steven’s brother into it,” Tungaa laughed, “now he’s more obsessed with eating organic and going to the gym than us.”

Over the course of this transformation from an unhealthy lifestyle to a healthier one, Tungaa and Steven saw how hard it was to go out and eat if you have allergies, are gluten-free or are trying to lose weight. Unfortunately, it is hard to cater to everyone’s dietary restrictions.

“We wanted to give people an option that they could go out and eat with friends, even if you’re a vegan or vegetarian; you want to go out with your friends and you want to have a good time,” Steven said. This is how Fresh Fit was born.

After quitting their jobs in 2018, Tungaa and Steven bought, built and opened Fresh Fit Café. “Of course, nothing goes by plan,” Steven said. Fresh Fit was set to open at the beginning of the summer, but after some hold-ups, the restaurant had its first customers in August.

“We had a tough time,” Tungaa admitted, “but we had really good support from locals.” After a rocky few months, the business picked up around the new year of 2019. From that point on, Tungaa and Steven have served hundreds food that caters to all.

The Gawlinskis set their focus on creating delicious food that is as good as it is healthy. “If someone comes to me and says they are on a keto diet, we have all that stuff,” Tungaa said. She is the head chef and Steven manages the floor. Together, they choose not only to do good for their customers, but the community as well.

Fresh Fit offers select wines that if purchased, profits will go towards N.E.S.T. (Network for Endangered Sea Turtles) and carry local kombucha made by a business sourced right out of Manteo. They also purchase local seafood rather than imported. “It’s cheaper to buy imported seafood, but it doesn’t help the community,” Steven explained.

Along with their staple food, Fresh Fit also offers fitness classes towards the spring/summer months. Tungaa explained that last summer, they had an instructor come in to teach a full-body workout class out on their deck while Tungaa made food. Following the class, participants were able to come in an enjoy a fresh meal.

Tungaa has thoughts of expanding her classes this coming summer by adding a few beginner classes geared towards those who might not feel as comfortable working out alongside more experienced participants.

Fresh Fit is open Mondays through Saturdays from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. and Sundays from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. For more information, visit www.obxfreshfitcafe.com.

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