In, Out and Vegetarian: Amy’s Kitchen Does Fast Food

I’ll take a side of fries with my veggie cheeseburger.

California invented Fast Food. I watched last year’s film The Founder about Ray Kroc and the birth of the McDonald’s franchise and discovered just how a small take-out window in Riverside County became an international food phenomena. (Spoiler: Things didn’t go too well for that small take-out window.) But the McDonald brothers did come up with a super efficient way to serve a burger, fries and a shake in under a minute … and that was enough to inspire Ray Kroc to take the operation nationwide. Over a half-century later, we have takeout tacos, chicken sandwiches and just about every type of burger you can imagine.

Now, that vast field includes veggie burgers. Amy’s Drive Thru opened the first vegetarian, organic, gluten-free-optional fast-food restaurant off Exit 484 on 101 North through Ronhert Park in 2015. Two years later, they’re keeping up with the meat-friendly competition.

“A nationwide chain of Amy’s outposts was far from inevitable when the company first began to mull the idea of a drive-through location a few years ago,” explains a recent story in Fast Company. “For 29 years, the Petaluma, California-based Amy’s Kitchen has gained a cult following as a purveyor of family-style, vegetarian frozen meals, from macaroni and cheese to burritos, all handmade fresh in three operating facilities across California, Oregon and Idaho, and shipped nationwide. The ingredients are sourced locally and organically, whenever possible, and the recipes are not put through the usual taste-test-and-tweak ringer; instead, they’re often sourced from employee’s family recipe books, and given a green light if a handful of Amy’s staff agrees that it tastes good. “There’s something about all culture’s home-cooked food that really speaks to everyone,” Amy’s food researcher Fred Scarpulla Jr., who started at the company in 1996, tells Fast Company. The go-with-your-gut, family-centric approach, Scarpulla says, makes Amy’s unique, but translating that ethos into a fast-food joint able to compete with the mass-produced likes of Burger King posed a challenge.”

With a single veggie patty cheeseburger at $3.99, it’s only about a buck more than a similar burger at McDonald’s. And to top it off, Amy’s is powered by solar panels, uses recyclable tableware and sources mostly organic or local ingredients. Next up, they have their sights on an abandoned Denny’s in Corte Madera, and more NorCal locations. The ultimate goal, director of operations Paul Schiefer tells Fast Company, is to open Amy’s Drive Thrus all across the country.

You can read the whole Fast Company story here.