Throughout the United States, in areas both urban and rural, there are communities without access to fresh, healthy, affordable food. No grocery stores or farmers’ markets. No fresh fruit, vegetables, whole grains, low-fat milk. Instead, there are easily accessible fast food chains and convenience stores with low-quality, overly processed, sugar and fat-laden food that add to the rising obesity rates, as well as other medical conditions related to a poor diet, e.g., diabetes, heart disease and kidney failure. The USDA has drawn up a map showing the location and size of these “food deserts” across the U.S. It is a startling and disturbing illustration of an unconscionable situation in this “land of plenty.”
Enter Sam Polk and David Foster who founded Everytable, “grab-and-go” restaurants with the mission of bringing nutritious food to every table in the country. Sam, a former hedge fund trader, had established Groceryships, a non-profit organization providing education on nutrition, cooking classes, free produce and support groups for low-income families. David, a former private equity professional, volunteered with Groceryships and eventually joined the organization as the Director of Operations. Through their experience at Groceryships, Sam and David recognized the depth and breadth of a serious social problem and determined that they could contribute to solving it while embarking on a new business opportunity.
Sam and David are dedicated to doing good, but you can’t escape the fact that a business is based on hard numbers. Everytable’s business model slashes the usual cost of operating a restaurant by eliminating the overhead of each location having a fully staffed kitchen. Chefs prepare the meals at a central kitchen. The meals are delivered to the Everytable locations. Patrons can grab and go if they like, or they can heat meals in the microwave ovens on site and eat there. Instead of a crew of servers, each location needs only two employees hired from the community.
Another innovation is implemented in the variable prices according to store location. Meals are priced based on the “ZIP Code-level per capita income data” of the community. The higher-priced restaurants help subsidize those in more depressed areas now. Sam and David expect that, regardless of how thin a margin, the lower-priced restaurants will eventually turn a profit.
In addition to the “price per community” concept, the menu reflects the food cultures and customs of the community, for example, Vietnamese Chicken Salad, Ensalada Fresca with Chicken and Lemon Tabbouleh Salad. Hot meals include spicy Mexi-Cali Bowl, Cajun Blackened Fish, Jamaican Jerk Chicken and Southern BBQ Pork. There are also glutin-free, vegetarian and vegan dishes. Kids can get their favorites, Chicken Nuggets (healthy ones) and Spaghetti and Meatballs.
Sam has summed it up: “We want to make money, we want to be profitable, but we also want to do work that we connect with at a heart level to lift all of us up.”