2016-04-05 11.42.29

When you live for, cook with, and write about plant based food, as I do, people remember it. When your friends see something vegetarian, if you are lucky, they think of you.

That’s what happened when I visited sunny California in April. Yes, I visited some hot and exciting restaurants in LA, dining at Gjelina and Republique, among others. I even shared a bowl of Congee with the famed Jonathan Gold after a screening of his movie. Then I planned to food-tour through Sonoma, dining at places that featured just picked organic vegetables and chef-crafted menus.

But when I landed in Sonoma, the first thing my friend Dan wanted to show me was a brand new fast food joint.


Had he forgotten my meatless lifestyle, my food snob tastes?

Not at all.

As a warm up to the wine tastings in the Russian River Valley, before the Sauvignon Blanc by the pool at his house, before the amazing meal at a restaurant in Glen Ellen that cooked everything in a wood fire oven, we took a trip to Amy’s Kitchen in Rohnert Park, near Healdsburg.

The green roof and water collection tower

The green roof and water collection tower

As soon as we pulled into the parking lot, it was apparent that this was no Mickey-D’s. The plants growing on the roof gave it away as a tree-hugging kind of joint. The water tower is where the business saves rain water, a smart move in rain-starved California.

Inside, it looked deceptively like a regular fast food place. But if you know Amy’s famous line of frozen meals, you know it was not a regular fast food place.

does that say vegan options?

does that say vegan options?

The burgers and fries, pizzas, mac and cheese and chili all looked “normal.” But they were all plant-based. Anything with cheese can be made with a non-dairy cheese, so it’s got vegan built right in.

But there were subtle differences, once you started looking. The crisp, flavorful fries were made skin-on, and it turns out that the potatoes are grown organically and locally, and never frozen. The cups, packaging and straws were compostable. Agave and celtic sea salt packets were at the condiment bar. Everything is organic, GMO-free, and as clean as it can be.

Fast food with a difference

Fast food with a difference

Plans for expansion into other cities are still in the works. According to the North Bay Business Journal, Amy’s has plants in Santa Rosa California, Medford Oregon and a possible future plant in South Carolina. Wherever there is a manufacturing plant, an Amy’s Drive Thru may well pop up, since the low prices are dependent on being able to get the food to the store with a minimum of time and shipping costs.

So, if you live near Santa Rosa, Medford, or possibly someplace in South Carolina, you may be seeing this new burger chain in the coming years.

I have to hand it to them, Amy’s Kitchen’s fare is a real rival to the kind of fast food that so many people fall into the habit of eating. A basic burger is $2.99, and you can get in and out of there in minutes, with a big bag of inexpensive food. It’s very family friendly, with all the foods you probably know and love from the freezer case, but fresh.

If they can make this model work, it will be a great thing for the communities around the new stores. Organic, GMO, and hiding in the form of a familiar burger and fries, what’s not to love?