Fast food is the ultimate American invention — cheap meals for people on the go. But we’ve paid a heavy price for our national addiction — an epidemic of obesity, the destruction of our fragile environment, and the loss of community ties that are maintained by taking the time to prepare and eat food together.
Despite these negatives, the need for quick affordable food is undeniable in today’s world. But why on earth are McDonalds and its competitors our only option? Every single time I get hungry on the road, in an airport, or at a shopping mall I wish someone would open a healthy fast food restaurant… and it turns out the wait is finally over. Amanda’s Feel Good Fresh Food restaurant opened it’s doors for business in Berkeley at the end of July 2008.
The restaurant happens to be located right downstairs from my office so I was among the first to check it out (read my review here.) I’m pleased to report that Amanda’s is pretty much exactly what I’d been wishing for–the food is healthy (they have the nutrition guidelines to prove it, too), tasty, and affordable (a cheeseburger made with naturally raised beef and organic cheese is $4.50, baked sweet potato fries are $1.50, and a freshly made agave-sweetened soda is $1.75.)
Amanda’s also goes out of its way to reduce its impact on the environment. For example, they won’t sell bottled water since it creates too much landfill waste and takes a lot of petroleum to transport. Everything served in the restaurant is also fully compostable so any “trash” left over at the end of your meal can be deposited in one of the restaurant’s green bins that feed directly into Berkeley’s city composting program where it will become rich soil for local farms and city landscaping projects in a matter of months. The restaurant also tries to foster a sense of community with a series of events in the restaurant and around the neighborhood. The future of fast food has never looked so green nor so healthy!
Amanda is often behind the counter in the restaurant, filling orders alongside her team (the handwritten “Amanda” on her wooden name tag was the only thing that tipped me off.) I was curious to know more about how she’d gone about making her idea a reality and what her plans were for the future of the restaurant so I introduced myself. She was kind enough to meet with me and answer my questions late last week.
How did you come up with the idea for Amanda’s? What prompted it?
I’d wanted to someday run a business that had a social and environmental mission ever since college when I was inspired by a book I read by Tom Chapel, the founder of Tom’s of Maine. So I always had that in the back of my mind. I went into technology when I graduated from college because that’s where there was great opportunity to learn business — I figured I needed to learn about business first and then I could figure out how to bring in the social mission.
I went back to business school because I wanted to focus on businesses with a social mission. Stanford has a really great social responsibility/public management program. At first, I actually thought I wanted to work at Trader Joe’s because I love their products – a lot of them are organic and natural and they’re affordable. They also treat their employees well – it’s just a cool culture. But when I learned more about it, I found that it wasn’t very entrepreneurial and after being in the technology industry, I realized I had grown used to that. So I thought I would intern for a smaller company whose products I was really excited about. I ended up interning for Niman Ranch which is a natural meats company that was located in Oakland. And that was the summer that the movie Supersize Me came out and I also read Eric Schlosser’s book, Fast Food Nation.
The summer I was at Niman Ranch, I did operations and marketing projects and got to do some ride-alongs on their delivery trucks. We came up to Berkeley and went to Chez Panisse and Whole Foods and some other really nice grocery stores and I realized that that quality of food was not reaching many people, and definitely not reaching the people Schlosser writes about in Fast Food Nation. So that’s when I started thinking about this need. Then I spent my second year of business school focusing on building a business plan for the restaurant, researching the market, and talking to everyone in the restaurant industry. When I graduated from business school, I decided to actually start implementing the plan.