It’s 2:30pm, well after the typical lunchtime rush for a fast-food restaurant, and eight cars are lined up in Rohnert Park, CA at the Amy’s Drive Thru queue, each waiting their turn to order from the vegetarian menu. A woman wearing a bright pink shirt leans forward to order an Amy burger, a signature item featuring a veggie patty, cheese, lettuce, tomato, onion, pickle, and an orange secret sauce.
Inside the restaurant, the line at the counter snakes past the door. Employees work diligently to make food for each order, as a teenage worker with tattoos on each arm mops the countertop with a towel. Meanwhile, the smell of French fries wafts through the air while several employees chop vegetables in the background.
Amy’s popularity can be attributed to its menu, which features a selection of organic and GMO-free burgers, fries, burritos, mac ‘n’ cheese, soups, and salads. Other favorites include non-dairy milkshakes and pizza with a housemade crust and sauce, locally sourced tomatoes, basil, and vegan cheese. All options can be ordered gluten-free or vegan, while produce is sourced from local vendors within 150 miles.
In September, the eatery plans to add a breakfast menu featuring breakfast burritos, hash browns, and sandwiches along with granola, orange juice, and coffee. And if all goes according to plan, an early-morning breakfast won’t be the only addition to the Amy’s franchise, owners Andy and Rachel Berliner say. After opening the original Amy’s Drive Thru in July 2015, the couple has received nationwide requests from people who would also like a drive thru in their cities. Expansion wasn’t part of the Berliner’s initial business model, but the fact that the Rohnert Park location doubled its financial predictions and expectations before hitting its one-year anniversary proved that the demand for meat-free fast food is high.
“We didn’t know that people would be wanting to eat vegetarian burgers,” Rachel Berliner says. “That’s where we had no idea if it would be popular.” Rachel’s husband Andy chimed in, saying, “We’ve sold twice what we expected. Obviously, we didn’t know, or we probably would have planned for a higher volume.”
The popularity of the restaurant can also be attributed to the philosophy of protecting the environment, treating employees with respect, and following the motto, “We cook our food with love.” This mantra also extends to customers, as people of all dietary persuasions frequent Amy’s Drive Thru thanks in part to the fact that families with members who have gluten or dairy allergies can enjoy a meal together. However, the eatery is especially popular with the vegan population, some of whom drive long distances for a burger and fries (according to Rachel, Amy’s vegan customers also share approximately 80 percent of the social media content). One such customer is Julie Martin—a 36-year-old government worker from Santa Rosa, CA. After reading about the restaurant in a newspaper review, Martin has become a regular customer, visiting the eatery a few times a month.
“The food is really good,” Martin says. “I’m vegan, (and) it’s difficult to find accessible vegan food, even in Northern California.”
Martin’s partner, 50-year-old Andy Schexnayder, also likes the philosophy of Amy’s food, including their dedication to sustainability and sourcing from local producers. He had the vegan burger, even though he became “a flexitarian” after Martin went vegan.
“It’s just a great option for both of us because there is really good food that we can both enjoy here,” Schexnaydre said.
Jula Pereira is a freelance writer and social media consultant in Sebastopol, CA.
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