Two Industry Leaders Envision the Future of Fast Food

Locol is a restaurant on a mission: to revolutionize fast food.

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LOCOL

Monday morning marked the opening of fast food restaurant Locol, in Watts, Los Angeles, California. And maybe, as is the hope of its founders Roy Choi (the Korean American chef behind Kogi, whose role in the food truck renaissance inspired the Jon Favreau movie Chef) and Daniel Patterson (of two-star Michelin restaurant Coi in San Franciso), the beginnings of a fast food revolution nationwide.

“We’re going to tackle the fast food industry, and we’re going to start in America,” said Choi in 2014 when announcing Locol to the greater food community at MAD, the annual food symposium started by René Redzepi of Noma. “It will heave the heart, the ideology and the science of a chef, but the relevance of a McDonald’s or Burger King out there on the streets.”

The decision to make Locol’s flagship location Watts was not by accident. The pair’s target demographic is low- to middle-class communities with little purchasing power to make nutrient-driven food choices. Watts is currently home to Los Angeles’s highest percentage of single-parent families, many of whom make less than $20,000 per year. To be clear, Locol’s mission is not to serve healthy or trendy food marketed toward impoverished communities — just food, cooked on-site, with a nutrient-dense profile. Real food, the recipes for which are conceived in collaboration with a team of advisors that includes Chad Robertson of Tartine Bakery in San Francisco.

One of the keys to taking on large fast food corporations, posit Choi and Patterson, centers around hitting the right price point for their target demographic. “There are gourmet burger stands out there, and gourmet fast food, but the price point is anywhere from $5 to $9,” Choi said in 2014. “That doesn’t seem like a huge deal, but there’s a huge valley between two dollars or 99 cents and six dollars.” Locol’s menu, instead, features “Foldies,” an incarnation of the quesadilla for $2, “Burgs,” such as the Locol Cheeseburger and Fried Chicken Sandwich, for $4 each, and different bowls of noodles for $6. Their dollar menu includes vegetables, spicy corn chips and slaw, as well as coffee and agua fresca, to drink.

“Access to nutritious food is a fundamental right,” Patterson added during the MAD announcement. “And it’s one that a lot of Americans don’t enjoy.” With additional Locol branches planned in Oakland, San Francisco and a fourth back in Los Angeles, the greater food community is wondering if the concept can garner enough sway to shift that paradigm.

“There’s this myth that there’s a certain sector of American society that really wants garbage. But it’s actually not true,” said Patterson. “No matter how they grew up, if you give them delicious food, they choose delicious food.”

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