Chances are you’re familiar with Amy’s Kitchen, a line of organic vegetarian foods sold at grocery stores all over the world. You may even have a can of Amy’s chili in your pantry, or an Amy’s bean-and-cheese burrito in your freezer. Founded in 1987, Amy’s is the original hippy brand made good, selling more than 260 products to more than 14 million consumers a year.
A few years ago, the Petaluma-based company took a detour into the fast-food burger business, in response to customer demand for healthier alternatives to the Big Mac and the Whopper. The first Amy’s Drive Thru, in Rohnert Park, was a smash success, and two more locations followed, in Corte Madera and inside the San Francisco airport. Last December, the company opened its fourth restaurant—its first in the Sacramento region—on the grounds of Westfield Galleria at Roseville. On opening day, cars clogged the drivethru, with double lines of vehicles backed up from the store to the street. “It was crazy busy,” recalls Amy’s co-founder Andy Berliner, who was there that day. “It was the most exciting opening we’ve ever had.”
I wish Amy’s Drive Thru had been around in the ’90s when I was a young mom. Back then, I took my kids to McDonald’s. A lot. It was fast, cheap and easy, and my littles loved the food—not to mention the crappy plastic toys that came with their Happy Meals. I knew it wasn’t a great choice, healthwise, but I chose the path of least resistance. If I were raising kids now, I’d happily bypass the Golden Arches in favor of the plant-based at Amy’s Drive Thru.
Vegetarian burgers have come on strong in recent years, with the arrival of meatless alternatives like Beyond Burger and Impossible Burger. In 2019, Burger King introduced the Impossible Whopper, and KFC, Chipotle and Starbucks all now offer plant-based meat items. Even McDonald’s has gotten into the act with its McPlant, a meat-free burger currently being market-tested at 600 locations in four states, including California. In the Sacramento region, there are at least two independent plant-based fast-food operations (Plant Power and Burger Patch) and at least one vegetarian burger food truck (Rabbit Food Revolution).
Plant-based burgers aren’t without controversy. Skeptics have long expressed concern about whether meat alternatives made with soy protein concentrate are actually more healthful than the beef they replace. And then there’s the ick factor associated with vegan burgers that appear to bleed like real meat. “We’re not trying to mimic beef,” says Berliner, noting that Amy’s burgers are made with mushrooms, onions, celery, carrots, wheat and oats. “It’s just food. Good, healthy food.”
Amy’s Drive Thru has a natural constituency: modern parents concerned about the health and environmental impacts of the foods they feed their kids. The menu includes fries made from organic potatoes, vegetarian chili, and gluten-and dairy-free options. The food comes in compostable containers, and each ecofriendly drive-thru has solar panels, a water tower to catch rainwater and a living roof covered in drought-tolerant, pollinator-friendly plants. Berliner boasts about the stores’ extremely low carbon footprint. “We got the first drive-thru approval in Marin County in 30 years, and one of the reasons was our carbon footprint is less than a sit-down restaurant,” he says.
Why open an Amy’s in Roseville? According to Berliner, the company gets consumer requests for drive-thrus from all over the world. But in the past few years, the largest number of requests came from Roseville, of all places. This year, Amy’s plans to open three more drive-thrus, all in Southern California. “The general idea is to open three or four restaurants a year,” he explains. “We’re not in a hurry.” There are no plans to franchise—at least not now. “At the moment, it’s not in our plan,” he says. “Who knows what may happen someday?”
Amy’s Drive Thru
1119 Galleria Blvd., Roseville