Fancy SF Chefs Getting Into Fast Food Biz

Aug 26 at 10am

Yesterday, big-deal San Francisco chef Daniel Patterson announced at the MAD Symposium that he would be launching a chain of fast food restaurants in the spring of 2015. He’s doing this along with Roy Choi, of the Kogi BBQ truck and Korean taco fame. Their concept is called loco’l, with the goal of serving delicious, fresh-cooked food, made from healthy, “real” ingredients, at an affordable price point. Appropriately, loco’l stands for both local and crazy — these guys know they’re undertaking something huge.

I can’t say enough good things about this project. Finding a way to serve quality food to a larger portion of the population is a great mission. But I can’t help but wonder, how scalable is it? And do these concepts ultimately reach the people who need it most, who are struggling financially and can’t afford to put healthy eating first?

Patterson knows his stuff — he’s taught cooking classes at the Larkin Street Youth Services, which inspired him to start The Cooking Project. That program teaches kids to cook and, per his statement at MAD, “the value of gathering around the table.” I don’t doubt his passion, or Choi’s — Choi opened a juice bar in South Central Los Angeles that has a very similar goal. Patterson’s developing a burger patty that uses grain to make it more affordable, and Chad Robertson of Tartine is working on the burger bun.

These “cheffy” fast food concepts have been successful before. Danny Meyer’s Shake Shack has spread like wildfire across the East Coast. Chipotle has been credited with having some of the most effective and compelling ingredients-driven marketing of late, and brought in Nate Appleman to consult on recipes and ingredients. San Francisco’s own Super Duper is a decided success story. 

These “cheffy” fast food concepts have been successful before (largely burger joints — it’s a great unifier, after all). Danny Meyer’s Shake Shack has spread like wildfire across the East Coast, and can be found in the far reaches of the Middle East. Chipotle has been credited with having some of the most effective and compelling ingredients-driven marketing of late, and brought in Nate Appleman (formerly of A16, then Pulino’s in New York) to consult on recipes and ingredients. San Francisco’s own Super Duper is a decided success story; its slogan “Fast food, slow values” has clearly resonated with San Franciscans, as evidenced by locations all around the city, and one opening in Novato later this year.

In these examples, you see top chefs and restaurant power players making it happen. Before Shake Shack, Danny Meyer was known for incredibly high-end dining destinations like Eleven Madison Park. Adriano Paganini of Super Duper is known for his mini-empire of packed San Francisco dining destinations — Beretta, Starbelly, Lolinda, El Techo, and Delarosa. Their burger spots reflect their attention to quality ingredients and flavor — Super Duper utilizes Niman Ranch beef and Straus dairy products.

And the price is right – $5 for a single patty, 4 oz burger, which is hard to beat in these parts. But compare it to cheap fast food, where you can get a burger for $1, and a full, double patty meal plus fries for $5 or under.

The challenge will be convincing people that those extra dollars are worth it, and that the food has greater benefits in the long run. If customers can be won over with delicious burgers (which, good ingredients aside, still aren’t the healthiest food choice out there), who knows? Maybe leafy greens with fresh, seasonal ingredients will be next, sold at prices that allow everyone access to the best meals possible.  

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Photo above of Daniel Patterson. Super Duper photo by Aubrie Pick

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