The iconic natural foods brand Amy’s Kitchen crossed over into the restaurant industry in summer 2015, when it opened Amy’s Drive Thru in northern California to serve organic, all-vegetarian fast food. Now, nearly two years into the restaurant’s existence, we checked in with Andy Berliner, CEO and owner of Amy’s Kitchen, about the drive-thru’s trajectory and how each side of the business has informed the other.
What has the first year-plus of business at Amy's Drive Thru been like? Are business, and growth, meeting expectations?
Andy Berliner: Business has surpassed our expectations. In our first year, we sold more than 1 million items and over 207,000 cars visited the Drive Thru. It’s been wonderful to see the response from the community. We have become a community hub and are serving a wide range of customers, from students to seniors, families, millennials and any busy person who wants a good meal.
What surprises or unexpected challenges have you encountered in branching out from CPG brand to restaurant, and specifically a restaurant specializing in organic and vegetarian foods?
AB: As the nation’s first organic drive-thru, and as a brand where everything we make entails an incredible amount of thought, we knew we had to take our time. The Drive Thru team uses the same sensory and quality control processes as with any of our plants, so we know we’re giving our customers a meal they’ll enjoy and feel good about.
How has the restaurant influenced Amy's brand as a whole?
AB: They’re totally separate entities, but the reactions we get to see live from visitors help inform us as we constantly develop new taste profiles in our new products.
And vice versa—what kind of influence has the brand had on the restaurant?
AB: We knew our audience and we knew which were the most popular products, so we started from there. Our Drive Thru menu was developed by our Amy’s Chefs, just like our Amy’s Kitchen products, but there are different options with each. Consumers who enjoy Amy’s Kitchen will definitely enjoy the Drive Thru.
Do you have any advice to share with other CPG companies that might be interested in expanding into the restaurant business?
AB: My advice is to bypass the fads and stay true to your values—and take your time to make it right. Our family personally visits the restaurant often to meet and listen to our customers. We listen closely to Amy’s Kitchen fans, too. It’s important to us that we hold true to "people first"—our first company value—in everything that we do. Also, get as much first-hand experience as possible, as quickly as possible. Never shy away from getting consumer feedback on your products. You'll learn more from that than any market study.
We did more than 1,000 taste tests to create "The Amy," our classic veggie burger, to make it perfect. In our first year, we sold 253,467 Amy Burgers, so it’s been worth it!