A Fresh Spin on Healthy Cuisine

Written by: Josiah Kopp

Cooper’s Journey in Opening a Franchise in Fargo

It’s always interesting to hear about entrepreneurs and business peoples’ origin stories and what their “ah ha!” moment was. For Cooper Wahlo, it was a combination of two things: a love for health and fitness, and a podcast.

Wahlo and his family moved to the United States from Côte d’Ivoire, Africa, when he was just three months old, and eventually settled in Woodbury, MN. Fast forward to college, Wahlo formed a passion for exercise and the human body and played football for NDSU while earning a degree in exercise science.

It was when he was listening to a podcast one day that Wahlo first heard about Mahana Fresh. “I’m a big workout guy; I love to stay healthy and clean and they fit my lifestyle of healthy living and healthy eating, and at the time, there were no fast, quick, and healthy [eating out] options,” he said. “I was in a very interesting time in my life and in 2019, I was looking to do something on a bigger scale.”

Fast forward to February 2020, Wahlo was at the gym one day and received an email from the podcast he was listening to called “Bigger Pockets Business,” a business podcast. “I never get emails from podcasts so I felt like this was the universe telling me to listen,” he said. “I knew Mahana was a great fit for me because I had my wife try the food as well as my kids and they all loved it. It’s a quick healthy fast option, which was unique at the time.”

Wahlo was also impressed by the franchise’s business model and the fact that they were able to open two new locations during the 2020 pandemic, which alone was impressive since many franchises and businesses were scaling back.

The fact that we are 100% gluten-free down to our dessert is something that I think helps Mahana Fresh stand out.

Cooper Wahlo, Fargo franchisee

I knew Mahana was a great f it for me because I had my wife try the food as well as my kids and they all loved it. – Cooper Wahlo, Fargo franchise

Everything on the Mahana Fresh menu is gluten-free, including the dessert!

Building a Mahana bowl is as easy as choosing a base, with options like basmati rice, macaroni noodles, and more, then selecting your veggies, with delicious options like sweet potatoes, Brussel sprouts, and more, then choosing your protein, with savory options like BBQ chicken or even vegetarian options, and finally finishing with a wide selection of sweet and savory sauces and add-ons to make it your own personalized treat. Don’t forget to top it off with their delicious sweet teas!

Although the pandemic posed challenges in getting started, especially in finding the right bank that believed in the business model, as well as the construction process, Wahlo was committed to bringing a Mahana Fresh to Fargo, which would be the first in the entire Midwest region—the next closest location was Idaho Falls, ID!

“The great thing about a franchise is they can guide you through that process, so, operationally, you’re not having to worry about what you need when it comes to the business side of things,” he said. “One thing that was definitely a shocker was equipment and supplies, which arrived a lot earlier than expected.” Wahlo and his Mahana team were trying to order things as early as possible, thinking that they would have delays given supply chain issues were plaguing businesses everywhere during this time, but that was not the case for them.

Prior to Mahana Fresh, Wahlo had never been in the food industry so everything has been an exciting learning experience, filled with new opportunities to better understand the food and restaurant market and how to connect with the Fargo-Moorhead community. “One thing that’s been very interesting to learn is understanding food cost and labor cost and how to make the numbers work,” he said. “It’s also been fun getting to meet a lot of great people in the community and pick their minds on being an entrepreneur/ restauranteur.”

Another aspect of the business that Wahlo has found very interesting is how much marketing is needed to get people to understand where you are, who you are, and what you do. “I also didn’t realize how saturated the food market is,” he noted. “The fact that we are 100% gluten-free down to our dessert is something that I think helps Mahana Fresh stand out.” The big thing Wahlo is aiming to do is to create a different vibe when customers come into the store. With North Dakota’s long winters, Wahlo leans into creating a warm, sunny vibe year-round. With Mahana Fresh being a smaller franchise, another major perk for Wahlo is that franchise owners are able to bring in new ideas, such as Mahana Fresh Fargo’s scotcheroo bars.

In addition to being a Mahana Fresh franchise, Cooper is also a licensed realtor in the Fargo-Moorhead area.

Between the restaurant and real estate, Wahlo loves staying on his feet and sharing the Mahana Fresh passion with his family. “My wife does a great job at supporting me where she can for the business,” he said. “The kids also understand that Mahana Fresh is a business for us because they were involved early on and are still involved in the restaurant today.” For Wahlo, it’s all about family, delicious, healthy food, and “Mahana”—a Hawaiian word for sunshine. So, stop in and taste and see for yourself how delicious and healthy can be!

Mahana Fresh

Ready to try Mahana Fresh? Download the Mahana Fresh app and earn rewards!

3985 56th St S Unit F
Fargo, ND 58104

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Josiah is an Editor and Photographer at Spotlight Media in Fargo.