There’s a movement afoot among some big-name chefs who are stepping back from high-end cuisine to launch fast-food concepts. “Chefs are really getting involved not only in feeding the few. We want to be involved with feeding the many,” said José Andrés at a conference in March.
The difference between these and the wave of quality-focused fast casuals explicitly targeting health-minded millennials is that these guys want to reach everybody. “We ain’t targeting nobody,” Roy Choi told Zagat about his new Locol concept in Los Angeles. “We feed all humans.”
Whether these chefs can tackle the labor and pricing issues plaguing QSRs is unknown. But they are, at least in theory, embracing the fast-food mentality and taking cues from players from Taco Bell to the original fancy-guy-goes-casual Danny Meyer’s Shake Shack.
What they have in common ...
At Locol, Choi and partner, chef Daniel Patterson, have kept menu items—including burgers, tacos, bowls and all-day breakfast (pictured bottom left)—between $1 and $6. Still, they’ve found ways to make the menu feel higher-end, such as delivering customization through housemade dipping sauces and partnering with a premium roaster on an affordable coffee program. But some have questioned if these cheffy spots really hit the fast-food price point. For example, veggie bowls (pictured bottom right) at Andrés’ Beefsteak (a concept he dubs “fast good”) start at $7 to $8. But with a craft soda or $3 José Andrés Potato Chips, the check can get costly for a QSR.
Eye on growth
Since its debut in June, David Chang’s fried-chicken sandwich spot Fuku (pictured at top) is up to three units. And Andrés, whose veggie-centric Beefsteak already has four stores, is aiming for 100 in four or five years, he’s said. Picking the right location is key for all of them. Andrés has moved into some college towns and is looking for similar friendly territory to open future Beefsteaks. As for Choi, it was all about going into an underserved community (Locol is in Los Angeles’ Watts neighborhood) that needed a better but inexpensive food option—and then employing locals to get them on board.
Rethinking the supply chain
Just because it’s a lower-ticket kitchen doesn’t mean these chefs will compromise on using elevated ingredients. Locol’s dishes all are made from scratch, never using frozen foods. To feed the masses better, Andrés has expressed the need for more urban farms to supply locally grown ingredients. “My dream is one day to have a Beefsteak with a super huge [rooftop] farm that can produce 3 to 4 percent of the items you’re eating in the restaurant,” he’s said.