Amy’s Kitchen wants to be more than just a frozen food company. In late June, it will launch its first drive-thru restaurant in Rohnert Park, Cal. to provide the same freshly prepared vegetarian foods the company is known for—but fast.
“Everybody said we couldn’t do it,” says Andy Berliner who co-founded the company with his wife Rachel (and named it after their daughter). Prepping and cooking an entirely vegetarian menu of burgers, pizzas and tortillas in under three minutes is a tall task, after all. “But we set up a test kitchen in our warehouse space and we did it. We learned how to do it from scratch very quickly.”
The company sources many of its ingredients for its packaged frozen food products from organic farmers, and that mission will continue with its drive thru. Drive-thru diners will have a choice of ordering meals that are gluten-free or dairy-free, and the pizza comes in either a rice or wheat crust. Amy's Kitchen has 50 people working with farmers to source raw ingredients, from the potatoes in the French fries to the grains in the burgers, up to 18 months ahead of time. Keeping up with the demands of a drive thru stresses the already challenging system even further, says Berliner. “The weather doesn’t always cooperate, so one of the most challenging parts of our business right now is the agricultural end,” he says.
Still, every meal is hand made, which means the restaurant’s kitchen is bigger than most fast-food chains. The vegetarian burgers, for example, will be grilled on site and the buns toasted to order. And for all that manual labor, menu prices at Amy’s Drive-Thru are on par with more popular carnivorous food chains. Burgers will cost $2.99 (doubles will be $4.29), while cheese pizzas will go for $5.89, burritos for $4.69 and salads from $3.99 to $7.99.
The restaurant’s fries will come from an undisclosed California farm that was selected for its spuds that fry well in sunflower oil. Amy’s grew thousands of pounds of potatoes to find just the right variety for its fries; the leftovers that didn’t make the cut—still tasty, just not great for frying—will be used in the company’s frozen food products.
Such efficient use of resources is a hallmark of Amy’s. The new drive-thru, near the company's Petaluma headquarters, is built on the site of an old barn; its wood was shipped to the company’s Idaho plant for re-use there. Nearly all of the drive-thru’s wood-themed furniture is made from lumber off-cuts or discarded pieces, and the small amount of new wood is Forest Stewardship certified. Metal came from local scrap shops, and leftover pieces were used to make smaller items like trash cans. Solar panels blanket the drive-thru roof, and the restaurant will collect and reuse rainwater. All of the packaging is printed with non-GMO ink.
With the recent announcements that major food chains like McDonald’s and Chipotle are phasing out the use of human antibiotics in their meats, and the decisions by Taco Bell and Pizza Hut to stop using artificial ingredients in their foods, the push for healthier, unadulterated food is gaining ground. “Consumers of all ages, but particularly millennials, are aware that what they eat affects their health, their wellbeing and how they feel,” Berliner says. “We’ve just reached a tipping point in a whole new level of interest in eating better.”