This San Francisco Chicken Chain Is Like a Woke Chick-Fil-A
The Organic Coup is the country's first USDA certified organic fast food joint, and it's got some high profile backers. Clearly, it was time to eat our way down the menu.
Known far and wide as an incubator for the glorious, planet-disrupting tech boom that's turned so many of our lives upside down, the San Francisco Bay Area in recent years has been responsible for another kind of revolution, and this one's all about changing the way we look at fast food.
This lesser-known outcome of the region's relentless, missionary zeal for improving absolutely everything can be found both in the streets of San Francisco, and out in shopping centers and smaller downtowns throughout the region. From decadent but impeccably-sourced burgers (Super Duper, Roam, Popson's) to vegan lunch bowls from vending machines (Le Cupboard) to a Greek mini-chain using Snake River Farms meats (Souvla), you're spoiled for elevated takes on grab-and-go classics, assuming you have the money to spend. Like so many other things in this part of the world, none of these places are what most Americans would consider reasonably priced.
No restaurant in the category, however, comes off quite so self-assured as The Organic Coup. Started by former Costco executives, and touting its credentials as America's first USDA certified organic fast food restaurant, The Organic Coup (say "koo") is justifiably proud of the provenance of everything on their menu, right down to the drinks. It's all organic, it's all good for you. You can feel great eating it. What's not to like?
Like a woke Chick-Fil-A—with a slogan like "Eat Your Peaceful Protest," we are not dealing with a brand that's content to merely fit in—the young but quickly growing chain, which at last check had 13 stores, including one in Sacramento and another in downtown Seattle, is all about fried chicken sandwiches. Unlike Chick-Fil-A, however, the brand seems to be aimed squarely at people who might like to eat fast food, but are worried about doing so. (Goodness knows there are plenty of reasons to be wary.)
Everything here is designed to make the hesitant consumer feel good about their choices. They're sourcing high quality, air-chilled chicken, cooked in organic, refined coconut oil. Buns are "artisan" brioche, the sandwiches are topped with good-for-you slaw, made from green cabbage, carrots, pickled onions and jalapenos. The sauces—that's sauces plural, there is an entire range—are made from scratch. No GMO's, no pesticides, no harmful chemicals, no antibiotics, no added hormones, no nothing. It's food you can feel good eating.
But do we want to eat it? People in this part of the world certainly do—in an increasingly crowded playing field of elevated chicken sandwich shops and chainlets (here in San Francisco, you will also find Starbird, Proposition Chicken, and The Bird), The Organic Coup, which now has six locations, has managed to secure a rather significant investment from none other than the San Francisco 49ers, in addition to backing it's already received from the founders' pals from Costco days, who, if you know anything about Costco, aren't exactly hard up for cash. With the 49ers now on the team, so to speak, there's talk of putting The Organic Coup's chicken (you choose from sandwich, wrap or bowl) in sporting venues across the country.
It is very likely that The Organic Coup is a company you will hear a lot more from, in the near future.
The question is, will it be good news, because after eating our way down the menu (in our party were both enthusiastic locals and out-of-towners skeptical of the restaurant's bold claims), it's clear that if this thing is to go wide, some tweaking will likely be required.
Walking into the store, the first thing one is impressed by is that aforementioned confidence. It begins with slogans like "Organically Cocky" and "This Ain't Old McDonalds' Farm," emblazoned on the walls, and it continues when you look at the menu. It's short, really short, actually, and plenty of Americans are going to find it expensive. For $7.99, you get a sandwich, a wrap, or a bowl, and you get to pick a sauce; spicy barbecue ranch, ranch, a mustard vin or sesame ginger. (The spicy barbecue ranch and mustard vin are delicious, and quite unique. Go with either, or ask to try both.) And that's all you get, for $7.99.
Considering what Shake Shack gets for a burger, that's not bad, right? No, if the sandwich was perfect. There are problems. This artisan brioche bun, no doubt agonized over, needs to be agonized over more. You can tell this is no garden-variety commercial roll, but this poor thing comes over dry, tasteless, crumbly. This is a roll that any carb-conscious eater will quickly cast aside, which leaves one face to face with the interior of the sandwich.
The chicken, let's note, is very good. The crispy breading is made from whole wheat flour and panko crumbs; it's seasoned with red and black pepper, parsley and oregano. It's pleasant, it's tasty, it works. But it's also quite small, no bigger than what comes in a Chick-Fil-A sandwich, and after examining the slaw, which comes out dry (fair, you're supposed to add the sauce yourself, or at least it seems that way), it's just chopped vegetables, with no adornment.
The wrap, it turns out, is much better. Whole wheat, we might have guessed, with oats, chia, flax and, interestingly, a whisper of cinnamon, it's a good holder for the chicken, slaw, and a small amount of sauce. Pushing it over the top is the addition of guacamole, which really brings it all together, but that costs $1. There are other add-ons too—fresh chopped garlic, extra sauce, substituting grilled chicken for fried—that could easily have your sandwich costing more than $10. Not bad for San Francisco, where a gyro (yes you, Souvla) can cost $12 and upwards, but how well that pricing does elsewhere, who knows?
The kind and patient staff steered us away from the bowl, saying it would just end up being repetitive, so instead we skipped ahead to the chicken tenders. Of the same good quality, of course, but they come out looking like your typical frozen tender, just slightly smaller. For $6.99, you get three of them with a side of tater tots. This is a fair deal, if not something you'd be aching to repeat on a regular basis. Better, quite frankly, to skip the tenders entirely, and go straight for those tots—a generous portion is sold here for $3, and they're fried perfectly. Spring for fresh garlic (50 cents) and have yourself a very fine snack indeed, one that will likely be flying across that counter in great quantities, wherever they end up being sold.