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Frozen-Food Titans Amy's Kitchen Getting Into the Fast-Food Business

Amy's Drive Thru is opening its first location in Rohnert Park this year.

Trachtenberg Architects

Anyone who's spent time in the frozen-food aisle is likely already familiar with Amy's Kitchen, the Petaluma-based maker of vegetarian frozen entrees, soups, salsas, non-dairy ice cream, and even candy. But after nearly three decades of building a grocery-store empire, founders Andy and Rachel Berliner are planning on moving the company, which is named for their daughter, into the fast-food space. As the Press Democrat reports, the couple are plotting the first Amy's Drive Thru restaurant in Rohnert Park, right next to an In-N-Out Burger and a McDonald's. Located at Wilfred Avenue and Redwood Drive, right next to Home Depot and the Graton Resort & Casino, the 4,000-square-foot space is set to open in May, right before Amy, now 27, gets married.

Like the Amy's prepared foods, everything at Amy's Drive Thru will be vegetarian, organic, and GMO-free, with veggie burgers, fries fried in sunflower oil, personal pizzas, burritos, and salads on the menu. (The one exception is the sodas, which won't be organic but will be preservative-free.) Everything will be available in vegan and gluten-free versions, including hand-scooped shakes made with a choice of regular or non-dairy ice cream, and rice-flour-based buns for the burgers. And it'll be affordable as well, with burgers running $3 or so, burritos going for $5 and under, and a combo meal of a double cheeseburger, shake, and fries maxing out at $10.

As with their prepared foods, the Berliners are pursuing fast food because they see an opening in the market for health-conscious, time-strapped parents who are looking for a drive-thru alternative. (The first location will even have a living roof, watered using rain runoff; here are some renderings, if you want to see what it'll look like.) It's the same philosophy behind Daniel Patterson and Roy Choi's forthcoming Loco'l, which is emphasizing veggie-heavy dishes. But while Loco'l is aiming to compete with McDonald's rock-bottom prices and reach food deserts in inner-city neighborhoods, Amy's clearly has its sights on a more upscale market that's willing to shell out a little extra cash for healthy fast-food fare.

At the same time, Amy's Drive Thru is positioning itself as a more mainstream alternative to other healthy fast-food chains like Lyfe Kitchen and Veggie Grill, whose dishes, Andy Berliner says, are too foreign to the average fast-food diner (and whose locations lack drive-thru components). "You're not going to have any questions" about the menu at Amy's, says Berliner, adding that the company has worked extensively for two years with its in-house food scientists to develop the most approachable menu possible, even building a mock restaurant to ensure dishes can be made and out the door in under three minutes. The suppliers they use to create their regular line have been key to the transition, according to Rachel Berliner. "We couldn't have done it before." We'll have more on the official opening date and menu for Amy's Drive Thru, as well as possible expansion plans, as its spring opening nears.

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