Sunday, December 4 2022

Everytable sells healthy food in low-income neighborhoods like South Los Angeles at prices competitive with fast food. Restaurant outlets will have different pricing structures depending on the neighborhood.

A restaurant chain that charges twice as much for a meal at one place than another? You would think this is a recipe for angry customers.

But Everytable in Los Angeles is betting it will prove a successful business model, while serving a heavy side of the social mission.

Here’s the concept behind the new chain: customers walk in and grab a to-go container of healthy meals prepared by chefs who have worked in some of the best restaurants in LA and New York. They can reheat meals in the microwave at restaurants or take them home. And everything is affordable – although the price changes depending on the neighborhood. The goal is to make nutritious food more accessible to everyone.

The first location opened this summer in South Los Angeles, a low-income area. The next one will open soon in an affluent area of ​​downtown Los Angeles, and there are plans to open outlets in other parts of the city. Each location will have the exact same menus and decor, but with different pricing plans.

Founders Sam Polk and David Foster spoke with Robin Young about Here Now at NPR West in Culver City, Calif. Highlights of their conversation follow, edited for length and clarity.


Interview Highlights

On using their Wall Street experience

Everytable California Cobb Salad Plate

Everytable California Cobb Salad Plate

Sat : In 2013, I founded a non-profit organization called Groceryships, which works at the intersection of poverty and diet-related health issues like obesity and diabetes. The grocery store is in South Los Angeles, where the per capita income is $13,000 a year. It helps parents who live in food deserts – places with very little fresh food and tons of fast food. It helps parents get healthy with a program that includes nutrition education, healthy cooking schools, fresh produce, and emotional support groups. We continued to hear from many parents we worked with. Things like, “I need a quick bite, and I don’t have a lot of money. So I’m going to McDonald’s.”

I’m a former hedge fund trader, and David is a former private equity guy, and we basically pulled out our pencils and tried to come up with a concept for a company that would make healthy foods that would be affordable for families in neighborhoods that The grocery store served.

On the difference between the two restaurant locations
David: At the South LA site, we offer meals on average for less than $4. We have a variety of items like Caesar Salad with Kale and a California Cobb Salad, as well as hot entrees like Puebla Chicken Tinga and Jamaican Jerk Chicken. We offer children’s meals that sell for $2.95. The model for this store is to try to have affordable prices for the local community, but also competitive prices with what else is out there – like fast food. … The second location opens up downtown, which is about 2 miles from the first, but the demographics there are quite different. It’s more of a professional audience. This place is going to offer the same meals, but for around $7.95 on average. We think the price is really competitive with what’s downtown, like Whole Foods and Sweet Green and Tender Greens. These are great, healthy, and quick options that usually cost between $10 and $12. So we think that even if it’s twice the price [as the same meal you can buy at the South LA store] just a few miles away, it still offers great relative value.

Everytable opened its first location, in South Los Angeles, on July 30.

Everytable opened its first location, in South Los Angeles, on July 30.

On the relationship between the two restaurants
David: Each store is designed to be individually profitable. At $4 a meal in South LA, we don’t make a lot of money on every meal sold. But if we get enough people to come out — and we’re already seeing great traction — it will actually pay off. The downtown location will also pay off. So together they are part of this company working to improve access. The higher priced location will help fund the growth of new locations in both markets.
Have a central kitchen

Everytable's meals are prepared in a central kitchen and then packed into take-out containers.  Customers can heat them up and eat them at the restaurant or take them home for later.

Everytable’s meals are prepared in a central kitchen and then packed into take-out containers. Customers can heat them up and eat them at the restaurant or take them home for later.

Sat : The central kitchen produces a large amount of healthy food. We have two chefs: One is the former chef of Le Cirque, one of the biggest restaurants in the country. The other was the head chef at a restaurant in Culver City called A-Frame that was super hot and super local. They create these meals like Jamaican jerk chicken and blackened fish that are… mind blowing, then at the precinct packing them in take out containers. And that’s a very simple but essential economic insight. A standard restaurant is 2,500 square feet, has 10-15 employees, and a fully equipped kitchen. Because of all these extra costs, they can’t sell healthy food at low prices. But we are opening stores of 500 to 750 square feet, and we don’t need a commercial kitchen because all the food is already in containers. For this reason, we only need two employees in the store. So all of those savings are passed on to the customers, who have those delicious, healthy meals that you can get faster than walking into a fast food joint.
On changing attitudes towards fast food

Sat : We actually think there’s something of a misconception surrounding this issue, that people in South Los Angeles have access to fast food largely because it’s the only affordable option. We know from our work with Groceryships, and now with the incredible sales we’ve seen in the first month of Everytable, that there is a strong demand for healthy, nutritious food within the South Central community. . What people think of as healthy food is actually what people called food 50 years ago. And by that I mean the cultural traditions of amazing cuisine that have been around for centuries. And we bring them back. We go into the communities we’re trying to serve and ask them, “What meals from your culinary tradition do you like, but don’t see offered at a good price in a convenient way right now?” And then we create those meals and sell them at a really attractive price. [Interviewer’s note: Of course, there are small pockets of great little joints all over South LA that are making great food, but not enough right now to compete with fast food.]
This interview was broadcast on Here Nowa public radio show from NPR and WBUR in Boston. Copyright 2019 NPR. To learn more, visit https://www.npr.org.

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