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.
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. Our 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.
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.
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.
So, 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!