Fast food is a guilty pleasure many Americans find impossible to avoid. But Amy’s Drive Thru is a first-of-its-kind restaurant serving up organic, local, vegetarian, and non-GMO fare — and it’s ready to take over the US.
Two years after the company opened its first location in Rohnert Park, California, business is booming. According to Fast Company, six new Northern California locations are currently in the works.
Amy’s has been an established food brand for over 27 years, stocking sections of Whole Foods and other grocery stores.
“Over the years we felt we’ve been part of changing frozen food,” Operations Director Paul Schiefer told Tech Insider in 2016. “And we had customers and partners saying, ‘Hey I wonder if you can do the same thing for fast food.'”
Last year, we decided to visit Amy’s Drive Thru’s pioneer restaurant, located just an hour drive north of San Francisco, to see for ourselves how the meatless fare stacks up to established fast-food eateries.
Scroll down to learn more.
When you think of Amy’s, you probably think of frozen lunches or organic soup. The company’s products are sold in chain grocery stores nationwide.
But this is its first foray into fast food. Amy’s chose to open the flagship in Sonoma County, home to its national headquarters and food packaging plant.
We arrived at Amy’s Drive Thru — 58 Golf Course Drive West in Rohnert Park, California — on a dreary winter day. We were struck by the barn-like design that felt modern with the help of a bright turquoise logo.
“It’s a color that no one’s really used [in fast food],” lead designer David Grocott told Tech Insider. “But there’s something appealing about it. It’s fresh and new and fun.”
Inside, the restaurant had a familiar fast-food layout, with an ordering counter and indoor seating. The atmosphere was cheery, and nearly every table was filled.
We took a peek at the menu. “It’s a very broad menu compared to a traditional fast food restaurant,” Schiefer said. “We have burgers, burritos, pizza, mac and cheese, salad and shakes.”
Everything served was vegetarian, and there were plenty of vegan and gluten-free options.
Faced with a tough choice, we ordered the Amy’s Special Burger (double veggie patty with cheese), chili cheese fries, a vanilla shake, and broccoli cheddar mac.
Notice the patterned packaging? Those stripes and dots were created for Amy’s by “I Love Dust,” an award-winning British design company known for its work with Nike.
The turquoise and yellow color palette combined with whimsical patterns was strikingly different from typical fast food containers.
Grocott said the coloring was inspired by 1950s California-Americana. “The surfer on the burger box is Andy — one of the owners,” he said.
All the packaging was also compostable. The Amy’s brand is all about sustainability and local sourcing.
Even the straws were made from paper. Ours did become a tad soggy, but it held up fine to the thick milkshake inside.
We didn’t test the sodas. Amy’s offered up simple cola or lemon-lime beverages — no Coke or Sprite in sight.
Even the condiments were unusual — organic brown mustard and agave instead of the typical yellow mustard or sweet ketchup packets.
Now, on to the food. The Amy’s Special Burger is the chain’s top-selling item. “We did over 3,000 taste tests of the veggie patty alone,” Schiefer said.
We’re no strangers to veggie burgers, and we thought this was an excellent rendition for just $4.29 plus tax.
Our dining companion, Gina, lives nearby and comes by Amy’s Drive Thru every so often. She said it’s often buzzing with customers.
Gina recommended the chili fries — and they did not disappoint. A good level of spice, cheese, and crisp fries. The fresh scallions were a refreshing sight for fast food.
The Broccoli Cheddar Mac ($4.89) was also on point — perfectly gooey with toasted bread crumbs and broccoli for added texture. It reminded us of Amy’s popular frozen food boxes, but better.
All the produce was sourced from local organic farms in Sonoma County. “We are blown away by the enthusiasm and excitement that the community here has had in it,” Schiefer said.
“A good majority of our customers are not coming to [Amy’s] because they are vegetarian,” Schiefer said. “We get a lot of people who just want a good meal at a good price.”
Though Amy’s was unable to provide specific data sets for their current demographics, both Schiefer and Grocott said they see a very diverse set of people in the restaurant each day.
The choice to include menu items like mac and cheese or pizza means that the food can appeal to omnivores and vegetarians alike. It’s still indulgent — the way fast food should be — and therefore more accessible to fast-food junkies.
“This is just what we do, and there just doesn’t happen to be meat in it,” Grocott said.
Today’s restaurants are catering more and more to people diagnosed with Celiac disease or lactose intolerance, and many are following the trend of reduced meat consumption. With this in mind, Amy’s feels like the first step towards the future of fast food.