Healthy Fast Food Chain “D’Lites” of America – Remember When?

Request To Revive Healthy Fast Food Chain “D’Lites” [Atlanta-based]

Back in high school, I worked at one of the best restaurants ever – a D’Lites fast food store in Sandy Springs, Georgia. Why they were different: “It featured reduced-calorie dishes, including hamburgers made with lean beef, high-fiber buns, and low-calorie cheese. The chain also served a vegetarian sandwich, frozen yogurt, sparkling apple juice, and light beer.” Nutritious fast food – simple concept.

Started in 1981 in Norcross, Georgia, it had a fairly good short run in the restaurant industry. For a “fast food” joint, it seemed like anything but! The physical setup looked everything like a Wendy’s, and is basically everything that Wendy’s should’ve become, in my opinion. Hardee’s has apparently bought them out, but Hardee’s is no D’Lites. Ironically, founder Doug Sheley used to own Wendy’s restaurants, so he was obviously seeing where they lacked. That said, why did the concept explode and implode? Could the concept be revived? There’s a Facebook group passionately calling for it’s renewal and revival.

Of note, D’Lites went bankrupt by 1987, but ask any of it’s employees and we’ll say it never should’ve happened. D’Lites was ahead of their time; the 1980’s was a time of corporate indulgence, self-indulgence, and the “me” decade…a scant few were interested in lighter fare, and if they were, it seemed to be a short-lived trend. Most consumers weren’t terribly interested in healthy fast food by the late 1980’s, or if they were, they weren’t consistent. Can you imagine what we could do with this franchise today?! It’s almost as though when McDonald’s, Wendy’s and others started offering salads and other healthier fare, it eliminated a need for a lesser-known D’Lites. Damn shame!

Early investors included pro football players Herschel Walker and Joe Montana. That I know of, they aren’t affiliated with D’Lites Emporium, although they do offer healthier ice cream.

Let me tell you about some of D’Lites food…low salt, low-cal, low fat…and it tasted great.

Baked Potato Skins – D’Lites had appetizers. One of them was “baked potato skins”. I helped make them, so I can vouch for the healthy ingredients. Basically, the cooks baked the potatoes, and some of us front-end workers would help do the tedious work of “scooping out” the potatoes, which meant that we halved the potato lengthwise, and then scooped out the “middle” of the potatoes, leaving the skin and about ¼” of white potato attached to the skin. We gave them back to the cooks, who then covered them with low-cal cheese, crispy bacon, then added fresh chives….and baked them to perfection. I’ve never had better since then, and that was 30 years ago.

Baked Potatoes – I think they did it before Wendy’s did it. I seem to recall I ate plenty of regular, plain baked potatoes, but if you got toppings, they were low-cal, low-fat, etc. Less sodium.

Wheat + White Bread Bun Choices + Pitas – for all their low-fat burgers or chicken sandwiches, they offered the choice of “white or wheat” with an added option of pitas! I’m not sure how many fast food chains do that today, but you had a choice way back in 1985.

Vegetarian Pita-Bread Sandwiches – I was thoroughly disgusted by these things, but I served plenty. You even had an alfalfa sprouts option with hummus.

Frozen Yogurt – many fro-yo places were opening in the early 1980’s and D’Lites had their own. Better than ice cream, and that’s hard to do!

Homemade soup – fresh ingredients, no preservatives that I can recall. Lower sodium.

Salad bar – the biggest salad I had to stock. All the time. They offered a wide variety of diced fruit and veggies and a gazillion dressings (some low-cal).

Lite Beer and Wine – because I wasn’t of drinking age then (which was 18), I wasn’t allowed to ring an alcohol purchase, but they had a button for it that I bugged my co-workers to push for me. Of course, no alcohol to go, but you could dine in.

McDonald’s, KFC, Subway, Pizza Hut, Wendy’s, Domino’s, Dunkin’ Donuts, Dairy Queen, Taco Bell, Arby’s, Chick-Fil-A, Burger King – not much of their food is truly healthy. Sadly, America is known worldwide for it’s fatness. Just sayin’. Fast food restaurants don’t cause obesity, but my “beef” is with those chains who sell poisonous chemicals in their foods (toxic ingredients and petrochemicals)- and they are well aware that most of their food is literally hazardous to your health, forget the obesity part.

For being as international and huge as the other fast-food chains are, they have been VERY resistant to changing their fatty food menus, and have been VERY late in offering healthy choices. Pink slime in hamburgers? Bromides for sandwich buns? There are so many chemicals that don’t belong in your food, and these larger chains know better – and yet, DON’T DO BETTER. Only when someone in the media complains and starts a campaign or petition do these restaurants change their poisonous ways. I’m disgusted, quite frankly, and I don’t eat garbage food at these places. I don’t trust them anymore. They have willingly sold toxic garbage, and continue to prosper doing so. You can eat heart-attack burgers if you want to, but these larger chains have marketed their food as wonderful and healthy for years, and they’re simply lying. Please, America – change your ways so you and your children will be healthy and live long lives!

Onward to better days, founder Doug Sheley seems to have found his healthy niche yet again in a chain called “Fresh 2 Order” based in Atlanta, branching out to TN and NC. Is this everything that D’Lites became? I wish him the greatest of success!

For further reading:

D’Lites battles burger goliaths; tests new breakfast menu

Franchising: A Last Meal for D’Lites? – Time Magazine article

Beautiful [stock] certificate from the D’Lites of America issued in 1987

New D’Lites Restaurant Features Light Fast Food

Expansion Plan Cooking D’lites Opens Its Second Orlando Restaurant — More To Come – Orlando Sentinel article 987

America Wants Food Fast, Not Nutritious – about the demise.

Where’s the salt? (restaurant)

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9 thoughts on “Healthy Fast Food Chain “D’Lites” of America – Remember When?

  1. Cousin Belle,

    Thanks for posting this! This takes me back, a long way back. I had the chance to visit the one in Norcross right around Christmas time in 1985; I was 14 at the time. My bus driver wanted to do something nice for the kids for Christmas who rode on her bus. So, after we were dismissed at noon from school for the holidays, she took us here. The food was very good!! I can’t really remember what I had that day, but it was really good. I was saddened when I was looking up this place online and found out it had folded two years later. Unfortunately, I never did get to go back there as I lived way over on the other side of town. Thanks again for sharing this!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. It was great fun reading this. I had almost totally forgot about the Veggie D’Lite, and yeah that veggie spread grossed out everybody who had to make them. I think it was the green peas in the mix that did it. D’Lites in Riverdale was my very first job and it was a blast. Worked there from before they opened to the day they shut down, only about a year later as I recall. You are right though, the food was good and it was a solid idea just about a decade ahead of it’s time. Thanks for the post!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I’m so glad you guys have Googled and found this article! I loved working at the Sandy Springs location…dang, I wished it still existed. The fast food chains of today just don’t seem to have the same personality, and although some standards have improved and chemicals have been removed (hey, that rhymes), it’s just not the same concept – can somebody please bring D’Lites back?
    ❤ Belle

    Liked by 1 person

  4. There was a D’Lites in Columbus, OH back in the 80’s, they took over a building that used to be a Rax Roast Beef seems to me it was near the corner of Karl and 161. I went once with my Dad, and he got a sandwich of some sort, but the bread was moldy. He took it up to the counter, and they apologized and made a new one. I could have sworn they served wine as well, but I can’t find any evidence of that. It closed up a short while later.

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  5. Hi Cousin Belle! My name is Andrea, and I am actually Doug Sheley’s daughter. I have some good news for you; for the past year he has been working hard on resurrecting D’Lites-but under a different name. There is still a lot of red tape to get through, so I don’t think I can tell you the name just yet, but I loved this post, and will comment with an update as things progress! Thank you for your kind words!

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    • Andrea, thanks so much for writing! This D’Lites article gets traffic DAILY because people need this restaurant, and I’m so happy to hear your father is bringing it back – I look forward to hearing the news about the ‘updated’ version 🙂

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    • BEST JOB EVER – agreed! I still tell people to this day how much fun I had, what I learned, and how good the food was – I need to hear that the concept will be brought back!!!!!

      Thanks so much for sharing the positivity ❤

      Belle

      Like

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