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Pura Vida Founders Jen and Omer Horev On Its Conquest of South Florida

The healthful cafe concept has grown its location count five fold this decade — next stop: the billionaires nest on Fisher Island and then maybe New York

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The all-day Pura Vida cafe from Miami has become somewhat of an institution in South Florida, where locals rave about it. Locations are always decked out in baby blue and beige furniture, offering an array of smoothies, pastries, salads and all-day breakfast items. 

And just look at the spate of Pura Vida openings. The chain, which debuted in 2012, has more than quintupled its location count since 2020, bringing the total to 22. This year alone it’s already opened cafes at the Dadeland Mall and the University of Miami’s main campus in Coral Gables. 

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More are coming, including a location on the uber-exclusive Fisher Island near Miami Beach and a 6,000-square-foot flagship cafe in Coconut Grove that will also be home to a brand-new ice cream concept.  

Commercial Observer spoke with Pura Vida’s founders, husband and wife duo Omer and Jennifer Horev, about how the brand stands out from the pack and how they came up with the idea. And spoiler alert: They both got their start in real estate.  

This interview has been edited for length and clarity. 

Commercial Observer: Tell me about Pura Vida. How did it get started?

Omer: I moved to Miami from Israel about 20 years ago. Miami is the best place, but the food scene was quite challenging when it came to fresh, healthy and simple food offerings — just walking into a cafe, getting a great cup of coffee, and some sort of a healthy meal without breaking the bank. So, to me, it was very apparent that I had to fix that problem.

To make a long story short, I was driving from Miami to Orlando. And I noticed that for four hours, whenever I drove my kids to the parks, all I could feed them was food that would kill them: fast food. And I said to myself, ‘I have to change the way Americans eat.’ We created a concept that was basically that third place — sort of Panera meets Starbucks — but with more relevant food for what people are looking for today.

The notion of a healthy cafe is not new. To what do you attribute the success of Pura Vida? 

Omer: We definitely did not invent the healthy food segment, but we’re probably a very unique concept where we put together all these things. Some restaurants are just healthy. Some are vegan. We really bring all these elements together.

We also tie it into a lifestyle. So when people walk through Pura Vida doors, they get service that they’re not used to in the healthy food segment, simply because it did not exist. We’re trying to translate that same experience you get at a fine dining experience in a casual environment. We believe that our customer is the exact same customer, whether they spend $30 on lunch or $100 on dinner.

And, obviously, you can’t forget about the design of our stores that Jen is responsible for, which is sort of an extension of mine and Jen’s home. We try to take people from their everyday hustle and bustle, and walk them into this environment that is more calm and soothing.

What’s your real estate strategy?

Omer: Funnily enough, both Jen and I were real estate professionals — she was a broker, and I was an associate — we actually met through a real estate transaction. I was listing a property, and she brought the buyer. We said that if we got the deal done, we’d go on the date. The rest is history. 

And, to backtrack, after the financial crisis, I brought a group of investors to raise some money, and we were buying distressed properties down here in South Florida for about 10 years. We built a portfolio of properties, anywhere from residential homes to multifamily properties.

So starting Pura Vida was a real pivot to do something different?

Omer: It was a pivot, but it was also something I was passionate about. When Jen met me, she said to me, “You need to quit and focus on what you’re passionate about.”

Jen: Omer was the best cook ever when I met him. He was wining and dining me and making me the most beautiful, colorful vegetable-forward breakfast. I just saw how passionate he was about it — he loves real estate, too — but this was just a different level.

How did Abbalé, a more upscale Mediterranean restaurant, come about?

Jen: Looping it back to real estate, we lived in South of Fifth, which is where the original Pura Vida location was. We always walked past this little house, saying “We want to do something there one day.”

It was miraculous when it became available. And we knew that we wanted to do something with Omer’s Israeli heritage. So I feel like that was such a beautiful message from the universe: “Take this space and do something with it.” And that’s really how Abbalé came to be. 

Back to Pura Vida. It seems like you’re expanding very quickly. How do you make sure that you’re not overexposing?

Omer: I don’t think we’re expanding very quickly. I think we’re actually doing it quite organically. It is true that, in the past three years, you have seen more of that. But it’s because we have spent a good amount of time setting up the foundation, making sure that we’re prepared for growth, that we are able to open up the stores without losing the integrity, and that the quality of our service and food we provide is the same experience whether in West Palm or in South Miami. 

I think that the opportunity for us to provide these communities, moms and families, access to better food is, in my opinion, endless. There are just so many people out there who would like to have better food.

At the same time, I don’t think you’re going to go out of your way to go get a cup of matcha latte. If it’s your birthday and you want to get a special pizza or pasta, you might drive hours away. So I’d like to be closer to the consumer to make sure that I’m accessible so they can come to me as frequently as possible.

New York and Miami are closely linked. Are you looking to expand there?

Omer: We like New York…

How about California? I saw something about a potential Malibu location.

Omer: We like California, but I can’t comment on that right now.

Last, what’s your favorite item on the menu?

Jen: It’s such a hard question. I have a long list. But my top favorite, probably what I have every, single day, is my iced matcha latte.

What type of milk to have with it?

Jen: Oat.

Omer: Every morning after my workout, I drink the “Omer’s post-workout smoothie.” And then I have an avocado toast with two or four eggs and a fruit salad. 

Jen: Right now, I’m addicted to our chicken plates. I could have it as early as 11 o’clock. It’s so great with a fresh salad on the side and rice and grilled chicken with some peppers.

Julia Echikson can be reached at jechikson@commercialobserver.com