The Greening of Fast Food: Amy’s Kitchen Opens 1st Vegetarian, Organic Restaurant

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We drove the back roads on Saturday, past farms, cows and horses to arrive at the new, Amy’s Drive Thru in Rohnert Park(Santa Rosa), California. A remarkable, first vegetarian and organic, fast food restaurant created by the Berliner Family, owners of Amy’s Kitchen, this place was packed, with 15+ cars in line at the Drive Thru, and standing room only inside, with 20 or more people in line at the registers. We arrived for a late lunch, after 1:30pm.

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via SFGate Blog (image: SF gate article, July 2015)

We were coming to Healdsburg for the day to visit our friends from Windsor, so the trip was not out of the way, but the restaurant is close to an hour from central Marin County with traffic; less if you avoid the highways. Obvious upon approaching the new building, the giveaway is the grass roof and the tall, water tower with sign announcing “Amy’s Drive Thru”.

Outdoor seating is clean and comfortable, with a garden patio in the back where we saw a pack of 6 border collies as we arrived. 2015-08-22 15.07.562015-08-22 15.08.33-12015-08-22 15.09.33Our single, twelve year old border collie mix was happy to be with us, but afraid of the pack of dogs in the back, so we went around to the other side by the tower to sit and wait for our food. Brilliantly designed, the drive thru section is on the opposite side from these seating areas and divided by a tall wall, so we did not hear or see the cars while we were seated. You could only hear an incredibly friendly woman’s voice, occasionally saying thinks like, “Aidan, #81,  you have a delicious milkshake ready for you”. It felt very personalized, and friendly the entire time we were there. We even noticed two dog bowls filled with water for dogs at the back patio. Our happy gal preferred to sip sweetly from her own Amy’s cup.2015-08-22 18.04.28

We stood in line for about 5 minutes or so before we were able to order single veggie burgers, fries, lemonade, milkshakes, a super salad, and a burrito. Later, we went back and ordered pizzas, coffee and Andy’s candies to go.Three people in my party had never tried a veggie burger before, and all loved the Single with cheese, thin veggie patty that came with lettuce, tomato, special sauce and cheese. (An “Amy” burger is their take on the McDonald’s “Big Mac” with 2 veggie patties and special sauce. It seemed like too much food, so we all just ordered the Single, which was plenty for all of us). Aidan, my swimmer, had two different flavors of dairy shakes and went back for a pizza too, only because I was interested in reviewing the food. I normally would not have let him get so many items.

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Amy’s “Single with Cheese” #vivalaveggieburger

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The New Classic #vivalaveggieburger Amy’s Single Veggie Burger Box

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Nice to see outlets for charging and accessibility counter by the coloring station

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Graphics on the tray at Amy’s Drive Thru

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Having worked for Amy’s briefly in their Packaging Production department during the 2014 holidays, I had seen the graphics before they arrived at the restaurant and I was excited to see them at the drive thru. Blue and Yellow are my favorite colors, and the black eyed Susan’s surrounding the restaurant have an East Coast Summer feel to them. The bold graphics are friendly and fun, with the words “Runs on Love” printed in red on an outdoor sign where we took a photo of Aidan and Mesa. It’s appealing in its sweet and simple, message, and knowing that the Berliner family started Amy’s Kitchen from the love of food and to create something healthy for their daughter, Amy, it has a real charm that only a family business could create.

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Coloring Pages colored by guests of Amy’s Drive Thru

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Organic Margherita Pizza with Chopped Tomatoes & Fresh Basil

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Coffee with organic sugar, cream and agave

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Amy’s Organic Milkshakes make him happy… Good thing he’s on the swim team and rides his bike to school every day.

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Super Salad comes with Quinoa, Tofu, Hummus and Pumpkin Seeds and a choice of 3 unique dressings on the side.

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Tiny, bite-sized versions of Andy’s candies are going to be perfect for Halloween treats this year… I am really hoping Mr. Berliner is thinking what I am thinking!!!! : )

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Alexandra and Aidan… Can’t believe they are 13! Went to Kindergarten through 4th grade together, and now we visit Alexandra and family in Healdsburg for wine country fun when we can.

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Mesa Dog Chillin’ on the Patio at Amy’s…

Amys_counter Amys_counter2 Amys_organicketchup       amys_recycleamys_utensilsamys_recycle2So, the least well thought out part of the restaurant seems to be the recycling bins. I think they have a good start, but what you can see is that people are throwing EVERYTHING in both bins because they don’t really get what is “Food Waste” and what is “Packaging”… So, it’s all mixed together. When I get a chance, I am going to upload photos of the bins at the Disney Museum in the Presidio. They have if figured out, but all this takes to fix is better signage. The sign for the Food Waste side needs to show the actual images of the food items you can throw in the bin (food scraps, maybe napkins, etc…) and the Packaging side needs to show actual images and list ALL the items that can go in there (Boxes, plastic, cups, paper straws, etc… We have no way of knowing which items are compostable and go in the food scrap side, and which are recyclable or packaging. It needs better explanation for people to get this right. Of course, everyone wants to be green, but if we don’t know what to do… that is never easy when we are at a fast food restaurant. It has to be spelled out by showing images of each product that can go in the bins… and it will work!!!!)

We give Amy’s a A for effort, an A for food quality and an A for pleasant seating. We noticed the Iced Tea had no label on it and it was hard to find, and the recycling bins were not easy to figure out. Other than these things that could easily be improved, we were amazed with how fun and delicious it was to eat at Amy’s. A day later, we are all feeling great, and the food did not give us any sort of bad after tastes or unhealthy feelings that I normally get if I have to eat one of those other burgers from those other fast food places. This is really high quality fast food. Congratulations to Amy and her family for launching a success. We expect to see these crop up across the country in no time. When the windfall hits, I’d like to recommend updating the company offices in Petaluma to give your employees a healthier place to work too. Read Gary Erickson’s book, “Raising the Bar”, the story of the first 10+ years of Clif Bar, for more details. Don’t forget to take care of your people.
See you at the Drive Thru!

Climate Change: Another Reason to Go Organic

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May 21, 2015

In the news today, most of the main articles I am seeing are about Climate Change. It is hard for me to watch my kids growing up in this sense of ongoing peril, and yet it does explain why they are not always as cheerful about life as I was as a kid.  I certainly don’t remember having this constant sense of impending doom in the news every day, and people in the community trying to save habitats, frogs, fish, animals going extinct, “Spare the Air” days, and warnings of droughts, floods and tsunamis.

President Obama just spoke to the Coast Guard Academy about the threat of Climate Change:

“I am here today to say that climate change constitutes a serious threat to global security, an immediate risk to our national security, and, make no mistake, it will impact how our military defends our country, and so we need to act, and we need to act now.”

Another scientific article from The Times today talks about the plankton in the oceans all over the globe. Plankton are showing responses to global warming.  The research will be published and available soon.

One of the best on site learning experiences I had in Marin serveral years ago that made me feel people really are doing things to improve global warming, was touring “Carbon Farm” in Nicasio with John Wick. John works at “carbon farming and sequestration”, and teaches classes from his land. Carbon Farming is successful when carbon gains resulting from enhanced land management and conservation exceed carbon losses. Learn more here.

I also recently learned about Matthew Dillon, Founder of OSA(Organic Seed Alliance) and his great work to create an open source seed bank of organic, farmer owned seeds. This is a great vimeo that explains the mission of OSA:

I can only get up each day and feel good about being here if I choose to share the good things with my sons too. It is hard to see the bad news in the paper or on tv, but don’t forget to show your kids the things that are being done to help too. I suppose, my biggest effort as a parent has been teaching my family about organic food and farming, and helping them to really believe in the absolute importance of this movement.

To learn more about organic farming, visit Marin Organic, Organic Seed Alliance, and Carbon Farm.

Why My Kids Choose Organic

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Snack jars at home: (Left) Kids ZFruit Ropes, Clif Bars, Annie’s Fruit Bunnies and Crackers. (Right) Organic, multi-colored, bulk popping corn @ Good Earth or Whole Foods.

This morning, I was opening the cabinet to reach for coffee beans and noticed an open bag of organic chocolate chips peeking out of “Mom’s not so secret chocolate stash” in the dark brown, glazed ceramic bowl I purchased at Art Works Downtown. Just below this, on top of the counter was a package of Hersey Bars that my sons’ and their Dad had taken on a recent backpacking trip in Point Reyes. I smiled. My sons would rather go into my organic dark chocolate than eat a sugary Hersey bar that doesn’t even taste like chocolate. Yes, I win! They win, and their Dad, living in the past and holding on to nostalgia… sadly is losing his battle.

Similarly, you will find a jar of Nocciolata Spread in my cabinet, right next to Nutella. Mom buys the organic, and Dad buys the product that has a chemical after taste and artificial flavoring. However, I am winning the battle because the kids taste buds are refined enough to know the difference. They choose the better tasting food, which just happens to be organic. Their father is definitely buying more organic food than ever, but he still reverts to occasional products from his childhood. The Brand is strong with this one, but I am converting him to newer brands, as our community is too. After all, who sponsors our sporting events locally but organic and healthy foods companies, like Whole Foods, Clif Bar, Nutiva, Three Twins, Raw Revolution, Alive & Radiant, Hint Water, and so on.  My sons have certainly seen more Clif Bars in their lifetime than any can of soda. Very few products make it to our grocery bag that I ever had as a child. In fact, I can’t think of a single one now off the top of my head.

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Clif Bar wrappers to send to Terracycle. We fill a bag of wrappers every month.

Take Halloween for example. Even though the boys know they are going out for mostly candy, they eat it for one night only, mostly enjoy the organic treats I have bought instead, and then give all they have collected back to me and tell me they don’t need to eat junk food that’s bad for them (Wow! Yes, this really happened!). They have been raised in a community where we always had healthier choices around at schools and parties. Clif Bar has always sponsored their bike to school days. They visited Marin Organic farms from a young age. They learned to appreciate the land, and how their food was made.

There was always a vegetarian or fruit option. Aidan eats more than one organic apple a day, and his brother leaves Clif ZBar wrappers all over the house(we still have things to work on, no doubt). Sometimes, the wrappers do make it into our Terracycle bag where we will send our Clif Bar wrappers soon, as we have collected 4 bags worth of wrappers this year.  Truth be told, I wish there were more, delicious tasting snacks for kids.  The choices are few, and we tend to live on Annie’s and Clif Bar, fresh fruit, and our two local organic ice cream brands.

Two years ago, I directed my design career towards the food and beverage arena, where I had the chance to work with a college friend who was the Senior Designer at Nutiva, maker of Organic Superfoods. I quickly gathered a strong feeling of commitment to people, health and education at this company. I had already been working with a group that supported Marin Organic for 7 years, but Nutiva made me want to improve my knowledge of packaging design and sustainability.  So, I launched The Green Pitcher on Twitter and began this site to share what I was learning along the way. I have continued to update the Art on the Farm Twitter account, even though the group has taken a break from farm visits this year, solely because I enjoy learning more about organic food and farming, so why not share what I am reading so others may benefit?

Since 2013, I have worked for six different organic food companies and taken continuing education courses in Packaging Design at Academy of Art University, How University and Lynda.com. I have found additional classes in Typography and Design on Skillshare.  I began a class with GA in San Francisco, and learned very quickly that I want to stay in the Design world, and not become a User Interface/UX Designer.  Although I love research, I want to keep learning and improving my design skills above all else. It is the world in which I have always lived, from childhood to my adult life, I have always been an artist and designer, and it has not stopped inspiring me to move forward.

My hope is to land at the company that will accept me for who I am now in my life. They will value my years of work in production art for software, web, children’s products, bikes, art galleries, non-profit programs, schools and organic products. They will see that I spent many years creating and selling my art that was all about the landscape, organic farming, cycling and giving back to my community. They will respect that I am a parent that is still learning how to best care for my sons in this changing economy. They will embrace social media and value that I have too, as it is frequently where I read the most news each day.  They will not want me to sit in a chair for eight hours straight because they know how unhealthy this is for any human, and they will work to improve this situation for all their employees. My hope is that there will be many more companies like this for my sons when they are ready to put their years of education to work.

I am excited to live in this time when a new, organic food company comes on to the scene almost daily.  I am excited that my sons’ favorite products are not Coca Cola or Kraft, but Annie’s and a super, occasional Izze. They don’t have cookies or sweets around the house for snacks, but only as a special treat. I am happy I have been able to visit many of the companies I admire and learn what it is like there for employees.  Due to confidentiality agreements, I can’t really share anything negative, but in general, I will say that the happiest employees are at companies that embrace people needing to continue to learn, exercise and be human. They continue to challenge the industry and do things on their own that are different, all without losing sight that their people are their greatest resource. If you treat your people well, you will thrive. So my tip for businesses today is to ask your people what they need to do a better job, invest in their environment, health and happiness.

To life! To improving the future of food and work for everyone. You’ve got this. Meet the moment!

Clif Bar: A Fun Sustainable Business Report

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ClifBar_SustainableReport_2013I recently had the opportunity to visit the #1 energy bar company, Clif Bar in Emeryville, California. Leading up to this visit, I had marveled at the story of Gary Erickson, who founded this company on a bike ride and in a garage twenty years ago, and has since launched a winery, tasting room and family farm with co-owner and wife, Kit Crawford. Having now visited both Velo Vino and Clif Bar, I could not be more amazed by this family and their contributions to organic agriculture, the people they work with and the way they have built their business to feature sustainable practices and responsibility. Clif Bar’s 2013 All Aspirations annual report is really fun to look at- yes, fun design, great photos and collage effects, and something you might like to save and go back to again and again.

As if I wasn’t impressed enough already, I learned they have their own cafe inside their headquarters that serves an organic soup and salad for about $6. which is partially subsidized so it costs less to employees.

They have their own gym and encourage employees to get fit, a Cool Commute program and are an LEED-certified workplace.  They even offer a program through Terracycle for individuals or schools to send back wrappers from Clif products to turn them into a park bench or a bag.

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Clif Bar is always looking for new ways to help people and not make new problems for the world.  Bravo.