Vegetarian Frozen-Food Company Is Shaking Up the Fast-Food Status Quo

As beef prices continue to rise and McDonald’s hemorrhages profits, new players are jumping into the burger game.

(Photo: Twitter)

Jul 9, 2015· 1 MIN READ
Josh Scherer has written for Epicurious, Thrillist, and Los Angeles magazine. He is constantly covered in corn chip crumbs.

Chipotle’s vegan tofu and chile Sofritas went national about a year ago, White Castle officially made its veggie sliders a permanent menu item in March, and Wendy’s is fresh off a single-city black-bean burger test run that was so successful it went viral.

Plant-based foods are coming in hot to the quick-serve game—whether it’s because of growing health concerns, rising beef prices, or, you know, the fact that vegetables taste good—and frozen-food company Amy’s Kitchen is trying to capitalize in a big way.

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The company, known for frozen vegetarian comfort foods such as burritos, pot pies, and macaroni and cheese, is set to open its first brick-and-mortar store, Amy’s Drive-Thru, later this year in Rohnert Park, California, about an hour north of San Francisco. Despite the company’s pedigree in the freezer aisle of the grocery store, microwaves won’t be found on the premises: Everything in the restaurant, even the burger buns, will be made from scratch.

So, Why Should You Care? "You’re reading more and more about people cleaning up their ingredients," Amy’s Kitchen cofounder and co-CEO Andy Berliner said in an interview with Fast Company. “I think it’s happening because consumers are demanding it. It obviously has a long way to go—it’s not easy to change something that’s really big. But I think over time everything’s going to get better, and greener, and healthier.” Even as fast-food chains like McDonald’s and Taco Bell have been changing their menus for the better by taking out artificial colors and flavors, Amy’s Drive Thru represents the next step in actualizing the fast-food revolution.

Not only will the carbon footprint of Amy’s Drive Thru be drastically reduced, thanks to its plant-based menu, but, according to company estimates, 95 percent of its ingredients will be organic, and there will be solar panels on the roof to reduce energy costs.

Although no meat will be served at the restaurant, Amy’s is keeping to the core menu items typically seen at fast-food chains and adding a few twists, such as brown rice bowls, mac and cheese, and salads chock-full of grains and plant-based proteins.

The restaurant’s signature burger, The Amy—double patty, double cheese, lettuce, tomato, onion, pickle, and secret sauce—reads more like an In-N-Out Double-Double than the organic veggie bomb that it is. A single burger will cost $2.99, making it cheaper than a McDonald’s Quarter Pounder, and salads will range from $3.99 to $7.99.

Though plans are only in the works for one location right now, Berliner’s long-term goal is to grow Amy’s Drive Thru into a full-blown quick-serve chain able to compete with the big boys of burgers.