I was invited to sit on a panel last week by the UC Berkeley Undergrad Net Impact Chapter. Among the excellent panelists, was Stanford MBA Amanda West, founder of Amanda’s, a soon-to-be chain of fresh, healthy restaurants. West opened her first store in downtown Berkeley about a year ago and by all accounts things seem to be going well. Ambitions for more stores in the Bay Area and beyond are on the table, and grand visions of an In-N-Out burger level of customer devotion are in the works. Her vision? To serve quick meals that are more wholesome and ecologically sound than the fast food status quo.
Ecologically sound materials went into the building process (a renovation of a 1920′s storefront) from the paint & fresh air ventilation to the tabletops & flooring. As for added costs, Amanda says: “The green aspect did add some to our costs. Low-VOC paint is more costly than conventional paint and reclaimed wood can be more costly than regular wood. But, we had some saving, as well. By using a waterless urinal, we were not required to upgrade our water service, which would have cost us up to $10,000.”
And the food? A mix of meat and vegetarian options without preaching the latter, sourced as organically and sustainably as possible – and no high fructose corn syrup in the homemade sodas.
But what struck me as most impressive, and what to me will ensure her success, is the educational and conversational attitude the growing business presents to its customers. The source and ingredients of each food item are available and enthusiastically displayed. The physical aspects of the store are talked about on a nifty slideshow that plays on the wall. But it’s all done without sounding like bragging, and being open to the imperfections of reality: ie, not everything is locally sourced, but West is trying. That kind of honesty will go far towards winning over regular customers who care about the impact their lunch has on their health as well as on the world. The company even maintains a blog on healthy eating habits and the fast food industry.
It’s going to be a while before the efforts West has already made are the status quo in the restaurant business, and for that reason she’ll get a lot of leverage out of continuing to make them visible to her customers. But ultimately, as an entrepreneur, it’ll be her openness and transparency in a greenwash-laden industry that will win people over for good.