New Healthy Restaurant Chain Plans to Base Prices on Zip Code

In the ritzy part of town, Everytable customers can expect to pay more for a meal.

Clockwise from bottom left: kale chicken Caesar salad, California Cobb (gluten-free), and Vietnamese chicken salad (gluten-free) are just a few of the dishes to be served at the Everytable store in South LA. (Photo: Everytable/Facebook)

Jul 28, 2016· 2 MIN READ
Jason Best is a regular contributor to TakePart who has worked for Gourmet and the Natural Resources Defense Council.

When Everytable opens its first outpost in South Los Angeles on Saturday, customers will find something all too often missing in low-income neighborhoods: healthy, wholesome, convenient food at an affordable price. As the Los Angeles Times reports, we’re talking savory fare like Jamaican jerk chicken served with coconut rice, beans and plantains, and spaghetti squash topped with turkey-quinoa meatballs. Each entrée is prepacked in a handy container that customers can heat up in a microwave on the premises, and nothing on the menu costs more than $4.50.

How Everytable can offer quality eats at fast-food prices is as simple as it is genius: When the restaurant opens its next location in more affluent downtown Los Angeles in the fall, the same food—all made in the same central kitchen—will cost roughly twice as much.

There’s a bit more to it than that, like how Everytable cofounders Sam Polk and David Foster, a former hedge fund trader and a private equity executive, respectively, worked with chef Craig Hopson to come up with healthy of-the-moment grab-and-go meals sans the high-priced froufrou ingredients. Or how the model of microwave-it-yourself meals prepared in a central kitchen allows each Everytable outpost to operate in a space a fraction of the size and with a fraction of the staff of even a fast-food joint.

But on the whole—and until the first Everytable opens this weekend, on paper at least—it’s an idea that has the potential to disrupt a conundrum that has bedeviled public health advocates for years: how to get healthier, higher-quality food at prices residents can afford into low-income neighborhoods, where the offerings are often limited to McDonald’s, KFC, and Taco Bell.

Polk and Foster maintain that they intend each Everytable location to be profitable—it’s just that some locations in wealthier areas will be more profitable than others. Again, it’s worth stressing: The food at each location will be exactly the same. Prices are set using census data that breaks down per capita income in any given zip code.

“What we’ve tried to implement is delivering great value wherever we are,” Foster told the Times. “So even though the pricing will be different between here and downtown, the price is going to be lower than whatever else is in that neighborhood.”

All locations will be bright, airy, and more than a little hip. “We really wanted customers to have this incredible experience where the food is delicious but also the environment was beautiful and showed a tremendous amount of respect for the customers,” Polk said to the Times.

But will customers in affluent neighborhoods pay more for food that they know is being sold for half the price across town?

While the Everytable concept may appear to be new when it comes to eating out, Polk points to a popular progressive footwear brand by way of comparison. “I think it’s similar to Toms,” he told The New York Times, “where you buy a pair of shoes knowing that someone else in some needy part of the world is going to get a similar pair of shoes for nothing.”

If all goes well—and who in their right mind would root for less?—Polk and Foster hope to open four more Everytable locations in the L.A. area by the end of the year and another 10 or more by the end of 2017.