You know the old adage: "Fast, fine, or cheap; you can have any two."
That used to hold true for food. Fast food is cheap, and usually not
that good for you. Fine food is slow and seldom comes cheap
always that good for you either. But times are changing.
Fast Fine is emerging as a new food category, one that just might
reframe the traditional fast food business model the same way that
Target redefined the discount retail arena and became known as "the
upscale discounter. Why else would one of the world's best chefs open
a fast food chain?
"To show us how it should be done," says Ferran' Adria' of El Bulli, a
world-renowned restaurant on a breezy bay North of Barcelona. With
tables available for approximately 8,000 patrons during a limited
season, their waiting list generally exceeds 400,000 people! If one
does manage to secure a table, the size of the check will leave all but
the wealthiest in shock.
Adria' is out to show the food world that fast can be fine, and
inexpensive. Fast Good is his latest project, with outlets in Spain,
Chile, and Mexico. He uses the exact same ingredients as El Bulli.
Salads are baby rocket (arugula) and dandelion greens, Iberico ham is
used for sandwiches, burgers are made from non-frozen hormone-free veal
and served on buns made fresh daily on the premises. French fries are
hand-cut and cooked in extra virgin olive oil. Fast Good delivers
quality fresh local ingredients (no preservatives), prepared to order,
and serves it up in a modern café setting with great seating, good
lighting, and even special tablecloths. The average check is about $15
That sounds like a recipe for success, and you'd think that some
stateside visionary would pick up on the trend. Come to think of it,
someone has. When Steve Ells opened his first Chipotle in Denver, his
idea was to start a fast food restaurant and serve "food with
integrity," in a hip setting. If that idea took off, he figured he
might eventually make enough money to open a 'real' restaurant.
He's a millionaire many times over now, and still opening Chipotles.
Like Fast Good, his fast fine approach ensures that only the best
quality ingredients are used (local, wherever possible, including
naturally raised meats, organic beans, and hormone free dairy).
Everything is prepared to the customer's specifications and served in a
hip, comfortable, relaxing yet energetic setting, where even the music
There are others experimenting with this new category as well. At
the Minneapolis airport we have a Wolfgang Puck Café Jr., an express
concept that serves brick oven gourmet pizzas and great salads. Not
quite Spago quality, but light years beyond the "slice of pizza to go.
This is all happening at a time when traditional fine food restaurants
are practicing "cutback cuisine in order to survive. Soaring food
costs, a weak dollar, and a crunching economy are causing chefs to
substitute lesser cuts of meats, rework recipes, trim portions, and put
more pasta on the menu, just to keep prices palatable.
For every trend there's a countertrend. Traditional fast food
restaurants are putting healthier options on their menus, upgrading
their coffee selections (McDonalds and Dunkin' Donuts), and improving
their ambience. The assumption is that both the white tablecloth crowd
and Starbucks diehards will eventually feel a pinch in their wallets and
begin to trade down to fast food.
The New York Times recently featured an article about a McDonalds
franchisee in Hayward Heights, CA that is going upscale in their décor,
using feng shui to provide a more 'zen' fast food experience. Walls are
curved, red accents are everywhere, vases filled with bamboo line the
vestry, and intimate curved booths beckon. Two waterfalls provide
tranquility, and even the doors swing open and shut in opposite
directions, all in the name of keeping luck within the restaurant.
If the economy keeps going the way has been going, we're going to need
all the luck and feng shui serenity we can get to withstand the
consequences. That, and a lot more fast, fine, and cheap food.
Adria's Fast Good