Does it seem like the Golden Arches have lost a bit of their luster these days? Heightened awareness about the health, labor and environmental realities of fast food has incited a major paradigm shift for an industry that for decades chugged along unchecked. Meanwhile, in cosmopolitan cities around the country, the trend of comforting meat-heavy cuisine has begun to give way to a lighter touch, such as at celebrated vegetable-forward restaurants Semilla in Brooklyn and Grace in Chicago. Combine a quick-service revolution with a new reverence for the range and possibilities of veg-forward cuisine, and something interesting starts to happen: A growing flock of fast-casual restaurants are closing the gap between quickness and quality.
With an emphasis on responsibly sourced ingredients and mindful, health-conscious menus, these spots are actively changing the way we think about fast food.
- Fighting the Fast Food Nation
- Wacky Global Fast Foods
- José Andrés Wants to Revolutionize Fast Food with His New Vegetable-Centric Restaurant
PIONEERS MAKING MOVES
Clover Food Lab, Boston
Ayr Muir says he was driven by environmental motives when he opened the first location of Clover Food Lab in 2010. “I started with this idea that if we could change what people are eating then we could change the world,” he says. “I wanted to convince people who were not vegetarian to swap out just a couple meals a month.” Today, Muir operates six fast-food restaurants and seven trucks in the Boston area, all serving a rapidly changing menu of vegetarian fare derived almost entirely from regional ingredients. At the height of market season, he estimates that 90 cents of every dollar he spends on food goes to a local purveyor; even during the winter, that figure can be as high as 60 cents. Muir accomplishes this by staying nimble and finding resourceful ways to adapt to available ingredients—a recent windfall of local garlic resulted in an entire menu of garlicky soups, sandwiches and spreads. Muir also interfaces with the Boston community, running CSA pickup sites at his restaurants and opening up his weekly development meetings to the public. Expect to see even more from Clover over the next year—Muir says the business is doubling in size, including a DC expansion, in 2016. cloverfoodlab.com