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Schizophrenic Nation

They're healthy; they're indulgent. They're cynical; they're hopeful. They're having fun; they're working like maniacs. Are today's consumers nuts--or just trying to have it all?

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This story appears in the March 1999 issue of Entrepreneur. Subscribe »

At gourmet takeout haven Urban Epicuria, patrons scarf down a whopping 200 pounds of grilled chicken breasts each week. That's no surprise in fitness-obsessed West Hollywood, California. But Wayne Davis, co-owner of Urban Epicuria along with Alan and Gail Baral, lets us in on a dirty little secret: The beef tenderloin is also a hot seller. And the chocolate cake--customers can't get enough. "When we were putting this business together, our investors were skeptical [about us selling rich pastries and other indulgences]," says Davis. "But I told them, `You watch.' People talk about eating healthy--but behind closed doors, it's another story."

Sometimes it's another story in public, too. Allentown, Pennsylvania, restaurateur Iris Konia packs in the local bon vivants at her Federal Grill & Cigar Bar. According to Konia, public indulgence in cigars, premium martinis and aged Angus steaks is not a sign of nutritional Armageddon. "Times are good, and people are feeling expansive," says Konia. "I think it's a reaction to not [indulging] for so long. People are having fun; that's what we're seeing."

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