The Best Hamburger Chains Have Nothing On Amy's Drive Thru

Meet the fast food restaurant that parents can feel good about

Amy's vegetarian organic burger
Amy's organic, non-GMO veggie burger at Amy's Drive Thru. Amy's

August is National Hamburger Month, and so while we saw plenty of promotions and buzz around Shake Shack, Five Guys and the other hot upscale burger chains, a new burger was in the works:

Veggie burgers at Amy's Drive Thru, America's first vegetarian fast food drive through joint!

Amy's tried to soft-launch the concept, to no avail. Instead national press buzzed about this fast food innovation brought to us by the company known for its healthful frozen vegetarian meals and snacks.

Amy's Drive Thru, in Rohnert Park, California, perfectly complements Amy's grocery products, an awesome business strategy.

A Vegetarian Menu That Makes Fast Food a No Brainer 

Organic, non-GMO* veggie burgers, shakes and fries star at what Sunset Magazine calls a vegetarian oasis

The vegetarian fans flocking many miles to try Amy's Drive Thru know the company's reputation for quality, healthy food and look forward to a fast-food experience with an assurance of organic, good ingredients:

  • Every menu item has a vegan or gluten-free option. Mac and cheese is a popular kids' menu item, and this comfort food can be tailed with broccoli. The option to customize meals is a major quick serve industry trend in 2015, one that will likely not go away.
  • Food is made from scratch. Pizza crust, pizza sauce, veggie burgers, buns, burrito wraps, pasta, and tofu are made in Amy's Sonoma County kitchens. 
  • Less bad for you sodas: Amy's created non-GMO fountain sodas in available in cola, low-cal cola and lemon-lime varieties for a feel-good fast-food experience.

    How Local Can You Go?

    More than 95% of the ingredients Amy's Drive Thru uses are organic, and sourced locally whenever possible. You've heard "location, location, location."

    Well, Amy's is perfectly located in a major organic food production breadbasket:

    • Milkshakes are made with milk from pasture-based farms in Sonoma County.
    • Non-dairy shakes are made from Cool Scoops.
    • Fair Trade coffee is roasted at family-run Coast Roast Coffee.
    • Pickles are locally-brined at the Sonoma Brinery.
    • Sour cream for burritos and chili comes from nearby Clover Stornetta Farms.

    Could a model like this be rolled out nationwide? That's not necessarily Amy's intention, although if they do, Chipotle's impressive local sourcing model, where they try to buy produce from local farms for salsa and other menu items, will be a useful case study.

    In the meantime, vegetarian families in Northern California continue to rejoice.

    NEXT: Will Amy's Drive Thru's extreme sustainability practices set the bar for fast-casual restaurants?

    Fast food industry trends for 2015, as predicted by QSR Magazine, included "sustainability every which way" — a value that's become more important to fast-casual restaurant diners, especially Millennials

    As if on cue, Amy's Drive Thru came on the scene setting a completely new, high bar for green building and earth-friendly restaurant practices in several ways:

    1. Building materials upcycling to the max!

    Upcycling refers to re-using existing materials rather than creating new materials from other products that were recycled or produced from scratch.

    For example, using a coffee can as a planter or holder for coins is upcycling.

    Needless to say, upcycling saves untold effort and environmental resources. Here's how Amy's building and interior came to life:

    • Upcycling their own wood: Old wood from a barn that was torn down to make way for the new Drive Thru building went to the new Amy’s Kitchen plant in Pocatello, Idaho.
    • Upcycled table materials: Tables are locally made from old auto brake drums sourced from nearby auto shops.
    • Upcycled wood: Distressed wood paneling in restaurants is hot these days. About 98% of their decorative wood is re-used from existing, discarded milled wood. (Any new wood is Forest Stewardship Council Certified.)
    • Amy's own building scrap was upcycled internally: Metal came from local scrap shops, and construction metal scrap was repurposed for small projects at Amy's, like trash cans.

    2. Earth-friendly eating supplies and uniform 

    • Paper drink straws reduce landfill refuse. 
    • Recyclable tableware is made using non-GMO materials.
    • Takeout boxes and bags are printed with non-GMO soy inks. 
    • Custom-designed employee uniforms are stylish and comfortable, and made with fair trade materials to boot.

    3. Full circle sustainable water system design

    Smart water use is on everyone's mind in California.

    Amy's 

    • Solar panels cover the drive thru roof, collecting enough power to offset energy use.
    • A living roof features drought-tolerant and native plants. (Living roofs are not only pretty. They can reduce a building’s energy needs and significantly expand a roof’s lifespan.) 
    • A reclaimed water system irrigates the roof and landscaping, thanks to an on-site water tower that collects rain to water the roof.
    • An aquifer system sends drain water into onsite swales, letting water seep slowly through the ground.

    With these incredibly creative green building and operations examples from Amy's Drive Thru, my prediction for 2016 is we'll see a whole more upcycling in quick serve restaurants and coffee shops in 2016 and beyond.