Can Healthy And Tasty Co-Exist With Sustainable?

Chefs Roy Choi and Daniel Patterson plan to open the first restaurant of a new fast-food chain, Loco’l, in San Francisco’s Tenderloin district. One of the foundations of their menu will be a burger that is locally sourced, sustainable, and delicious. It will cost just ninety-nine cents. Choi is best known as the godfather of the food-truck movement and as the owner of Kogi, a group of Korean–Mexican taco trucks. The goal of competing with fast-food giants like McDonald’s, Wendy’s, Chipotle, and Shake Shack is ambitious but Choi and Patterson are convinced that it can work.

Will We Be Consuming Waste?

Loco’l’s principals believe that their enterprise will be able to set low prices on its food primarily by wasting less food. Restaurants – and fast-food joints, in particular – are infamous for the tremendous waste they generate. This is a result of large portion sizes, standardized menu items and quality-control codes that instruct, for example, fries must be thrown away if they’re not sold within seven minutes of being cooked. Loco’l plans to re-purpose scraps that would ordinarily end up in the trash, and to design their recipes to include common ingredients across dishes.

1408335679198.cached-1160x773Why Do We Need Sustainable Food?

According to a report published in 2012 by the Natural Resources Defense Council, the amount of wasted food in the U.S. has increased by 50% since the 1970s, to the point where more than 40% of all food grown or raised in the US now goes to waste somewhere along the supply chain. This means that vast amounts of fossil fuels, water, and other resources are being wasted in the production of unused food.
 
The economic and environmental advantages of waste reduction have made it a growing concern in the food industry. In 2015, waste management was ranked ninth on the National Restaurant Association’s annual survey of culinary trends. Waste elimination is particularly useful for restaurants concerned with sustainability. While other sustainable practices—sourcing food locally, using organic raw materials—often increase costs, attention to waste can lead to savings.

Technology To The Rescue. Yet Again.

Lean Path’s, a software which is modelled on productivity programs used in the corporate world, helps servers, chefs, and other restaurant staff measure what they throw away, allowing businesses to cut costs by identifying which foods are being over-ordered or over-served. Restaurants might, for example, be putting too many rolls in a basket, or stocking strawberries for a dish that few customers request. Lean Path boasts that it can help restaurants cut their costs by between 2-6%, and it has been calculated in the University of California that after using the software, in 2011, the school’s pre-consumer waste dropped by 43%, which translated to savings of about $1600 a week.
 
For the moment, Lean Path’s more than 220 clients consist mainly of large institutions with central food-services operations, like Berkeley and Google. Typical single-location, chef-owned restaurants tend to have more variable menus and ingredients, smaller staffs, and tighter budgets. To try to make its product more feasible for smaller businesses, Lean Path recently released a simpler version of its software, called LeanZap, which a minority of initial clients are using—this option costs as little as $69 a month.
 
A representative at Loco’l said that the restaurant isn’t planning to use software to track waste. If all goes according to Choi’s ambitious plan for the chain’s menu, there might not be any need for it. Choi hopes to make use of every scrap, peel, and bit of ingredient that comes through the kitchen. The menu will include multiple items that are braised, slow-cooked, and then stuffed; vegetable peelings and ends will be ground up with non-choice cuts of meat and made into dipping sauces or fillings. These methods will also allow Loco’l to purchase damaged or deformed vegetables, which are generally sold at a discount. Choi also plans to cut his burgers with rice and tofu, which will have the added benefit of making them healthier. Like Lean Path, a mission of cultural change drives Loco’l. As a marketing strategy, this philosophy has already served Loco’l well. When the restaurant’s launch was announced, in 2014, the hype was so great that it launched an Indiegogo campaign to raise money, less because it needed the cash than to harness the enthusiasm and create a sense of community. The campaign ultimately raised nearly a $130,000. 

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Back To The Future

Still, translating this idea into a business plan that will allow Loco’l to compete with much larger fast-food players and won’t be easy. Loco’l’s PR team clarified that although Loco’l would most certainly offer ninety-nine-cent items on its menu, these wouldn’t necessarily include a ninety-nine-cent burger, as Choi had initially said. It seemed as though the R&D phase had provided a reality check—a possibility that Choi himself had acknowledged. Patterson and him are aiming to revolutionize the fast food industry in America. It’s going to be long, difficult and damn near impossible journey. But in a world where anything tasty and/or healthy passes as edible, nothing is impossible is it?