It seems that fast food giants don’t have as much clout as they used to. People are more often choosing ingredients that will make them feel vibrant.
But what if your fast food restaurant had locally and sustainably sourced ingredients? Would you rethink the value of eating out “fast food” style?
Lyfe Kitchen has 10 restaurants dedicated to fast, affordable, delicious and nutrient dense food. Co-Founder Michael Donahue has experience in this area, as the guy who created the healthy social responsibility platform behind McDonalds.
But Michael isn’t just some bigwig executive. He’s truly a nice guy who goes to the trouble of learning your name quickly and peppering it throughout the conversation.
Michael talked about the mantra he works by and what word he thinks is too dirty for Lyfe to use.
Lyfe Kitchen is doing so well. Are you surprised, or did you anticipate this?
We followed the management mantra of Blue Ocean: You don’t benchmark what’s out there and recreate what they’re doing. You innovate and create your own so you don’t look like others. When you go inside our restaurants, you’ll see it’s like few others.
What would you like to accomplish with your vision?
We’re very humble still with only 10* restaurants, but in a way we’re transforming the restaurant industry with our social responsibility platform. We have created a warm and friendly environment that is inviting to all, threatening to none. People do realize we are protein-agnostic. It is the United Nations of Food. We believe we are authentic to everybody.
Are you finding that you are attracting people who would not normally eat at “healthy” restaurants?
Absolutely. It’s been a pleasure to see that. We would prefer to not even use the “H” word. We want to be known as a great restaurant. Unbelievable hospitality with delicious food made by famous chefs. We have put together a system to recreate their meals. We want to reach out to all consumers with our message and let them know that we are so much more than nutritious food.
Why do you think words like “healthy” or “vegan” are viewed negatively in mass media?
It takes years to dispel myths. Lyfe Kitchen is all about dispelling food myths. One is that nutritious doesn’t taste great. The second one is that it is expensive. We say first and foremost that we have great tasting food, it’s affordable, it’s convenient and oh, yeah, it’s good for you!
Do you have a favourite Lyfe Kitchen dish?
My favourite is the Ancient Grain bowl, which is made with quinoa, spices and vegetables. It also has plant-based sirloin tips made by Gardein. I served it to the football coaches at Stanford, and they refused to believe that it wasn’t sirloin steak. They devoured it.
You have some new locations opening up in New York and Colorado. Any chance you are coming to Canada?
We’ve been invited into many other locations. We are very excited about the opportunity, but we have to have smart growth. We have very ambitious plans but we want to get it right!
Let us in on some of your secrets – how can good-for-you food be ready in a flash?
It’s using technology to take you back to the future. We have a sophisticated oven that you can program to cook oven-fried chicken, with no microwaves, in 7 minutes. Chef Art Smith said to us “Food is transformational. This is what people will be using to cook with in the future.” We have a lot of natural preparation that takes place in the restaurant. 95% of our meals are served in 10 minutes or less, but we don’t want people to feel rushed. The environment is as important to us as is the food. It’s warm and inviting.
It seems like you have some big names behind the endeavour.
We have a great smashing of food atoms. Chef Art Smith is known for comfort food. Jeremy Bringardner is known for great tasting, gourmet food. Tal Ronnen is the Thomas Edison of plant-based food. We have tasted thousands of products and narrowed it down to the menu we have now. We are constantly looking at that menu to make sure it’s right.
It sounds like you are a busy man!
It has been busy, but it has been so rewarding! Energy begets energy.
A food revolution is going on in the United States of America. As their Northern neighbours, we hope that fast, affordable and healthy (sorry for using the “h” word, Michael) will make for a full and rich lyfe.
**tuja conducted this interview in the fall of 2014. As of today’s date, Lyfe Kitchen has 14 locations across the USA.