Miami's American Harvest Cuts Food Costs with Seasonal Sourcing

On this episode of Fast Casual Nation, we talk to the founders of a concept that has quickly established itself as a loved brand in Miami.

Consumers today are demanding much more from restaurants. They expect clean, locally sourced ingredients, quick service, and affordable prices. While many restaurants try to offer all of these things, few can successfully execute without sacrificing their margins.

American Harvest Co., a concept started by Grove Bay Hospitality Group in the Brickell City Center, seems to have found the right balance.

With a menu focused on clean eating, American Harvest serves up minimally processed foods. They use words like ‘GMO-free’, ‘grass-fed’, and ‘organic,’ to support their commitment to sustainable practices and sourcing local.

With decades of experience combined between the top three minds of the leadership team, the Grove Bay Group has perfected every aspect of American Harvest Co. and now they market it as their growth brand.

Watch the episode above for more expert insights into fast casual!

 
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“Angeleno” Food Cart Brings Traditional LA Tacos to Philly

Los Angeles-native Vanessa Jerolmack has been making traditional Mexican tacos all her life, but it wasn't until she moved to Philadelphia that she thought to open up a shop dishing out the craveable bites. Now, on a lot on Baltimore Avenue, Taco Angeleno serves customers fully customizable tacos, burritos and quesadillas with an array of options, even catering to the vegan crowd.

“We make a homemade seitan here, and that's from my vegan days,” Jerolmack explains. “Like, I wanted something meaty tasting that I could eat with all the normal toppings that the other people with a meat taco were eating.”

Using a commercial kitchen ten blocks away, Taco Angeleno preps all its ingredients before bringing them to the food cart to be served. Customizable toppings like Salvadorian curtido, and staples like onions, cilantro, and lime take the tacos to the next level.

Being an outdoor restaurant, Taco Angeleno is only open from May through October to avoid the cold and rainy Philadelphia weather, but you can visit Taco Angeleno year-round by watching the episode above!

 
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Buena Onda's Scratch Kitchen Stands Out in Fast Casual

Aside from earning the prestigious title of Iron Chef in 2009, Jose Garces has many other claims to fame such as his many restaurant brands in Philadelphia. Volvér, Distrito, and Amada are just a few of his successful concepts. But you don't have to pay an arm and a leg to get a taste of the chef's famed fish tacos.

The Garces Group’s only fast casual concept, Buena Onda, takes Garces’ culinary excellence and serves it up at affordable prices. Take, for example, their 5-dollar margaritas available on Taco Tuesdays! The Vice President of Culinary Operations for the Garces Group, Gregg Ciprioni, helped Foodable understand how Buena Onda is able to create top-level dishes keeping costs low.

“We featured mahi-mahi when we first opened here but there was an issue with overfishing in the past year and so it became prohibitively expensive,” Ciprioni explains. “You have to be really flexible with what you’re serving. You have to find what works right in this concept and we found that [Perch] is super consistent, it’s sustainable and delicious.”

Taking tips from its upscale big brothers, Buena Onda makes its flour tortillas from scratch daily. The tacos are topped with delicious garnishes like pickled purple cabbage, scallions and chipotle remoulade. With all this flavor, Greg also gave us some tips on retaining freshness for delivery. Watch the episode above to see how they’re doing it!

 
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The Urban Farmhouse: Bringing the Farm to the City

Coming from a number of fast food chains, Kathleen Richardson knew a thing or two about the business, but she wanted to do something a little different. So she dove back into her hometown of Richmond, Virginia and opened a fast casual of her own, The Urban Farmhouse Market & Café. Founded in 2010, the mission behind The Urban Farmhouse is to bring the farm to the city and suburbs while providing customers with local, wholesome food. Though their menu is not outrageously unique, the way each menu item is made is what makes them stand out.

“For almost all of our salads, salad dressings, sandwich ingredients, we either prepare or cut here on the premises. That to me is a difference that I feel is important in defining fast casual.”

Redefining fast casual seems to be a theme here. Coming from McDonald's, Richardson knew a lot about limited time offers (LTO’s) but at The Urban Farmhouse Market & Café, LTO’s don’t exist. Instead, Urban Farmhouse changes their menus seven times a year, in accordance with the Virginia growing calendar.

In addition to using local farmers and producers as their purveyors, The Urban Farmhouse expands on its dedication to local by showcasing local artisanal products like beer, chocolates, and almonds. As Kathleen explains, they don’t do anything the easy way. “You’re working with this local for this one product, this local… Doing that for 20 different products versus being able to call up one distributor and getting all of that there. It’s time-consuming, it’s a lot of paperwork but it’s kind of who we are. We can’t be any different.”

Learn more about The Urban Farmhouse Market & Café on this episode of Fast Casual Nation.

Poké 305 Brings Hawaiian-Latin Fusion to Miami's Brickell

Video Produced by Denise Toledo

Poké 305 started as an idea by Founder Victoria Chediak. As a food blogger, Victoria was always in tune with food trends and was intrigued by the traditional Hawaiian dish, poké. Although poké has been gaining a lot of attention in the food world, Victoria noticed there weren’t really any poké options in Miami. That’s when she started thinking about what she could offer to the Brickell community.

“I went to the University of Miami. I sort of catered everything to what I felt there was a need for because I lived it first-hand,” said Victoria. “Working here, studying here, you know you need a lot of healthy options, a lot of 'grab-and-go'.”

Victoria got started on the concept with a little help from her father, Maurico. Maurico has experience opening businesses , which was especially helpful when opening Poké 305. But why ‘305’? Victoria wanted to put her own flare on the poké trend. Being from the city, she created a fusion by inserting some very ‘Miami’ flavors like guava and plantain chips.

“305 is the area code for Miami. Miami is not Hawaii but we have a lot of latin people, Latin community. We have Cuban community, Colombian, Venezuelan. So we tried to mix a little flavor, Latin flavor, into the Hawaiian dish.,” said Maurico.

Everything at Poké 305 is made from scratch, even the mayonnaise for their wasabi aioli! But Poké 305 offers more than just great flavors. Another thing that sets the Poké brand apart is their presentation and atmosphere. With nice big bowls, a fresh open space, and "instaworthy" photos of the food posted on social (this is where Victoria's past as food blogger comes to play) – customers first visit for the aesthetics, but stay for the tastes.

Support Local at Brickell's American Harvest

Consumers today expect much more from restaurants. They demand clean ingredients that are locally sourced. They demand quick service at affordable prices. Many restaurants have tried to offer all of these things but not without sacrificing their margins. However, American Harvest Co. seems to have found the right balance in order to scale their healthy concept. American Harvest Co. is a concept started by Grove Bay Hospitality Group in Brickell with a focus on “Delicious. Clean. Eating.”

With a menu focused around clean eating, American Harvest serves up “minimally processed foods.” GMO-free, grass-fed, and organic are all words used to describe the dishes served up at the Brickell City Center restaurant. The concept also prides itself on its commitment to sustainable practices and sourcing local. Take for example their craft sodas and beer selection.

“We also developed our own soda recipes with a local vendor and they’re all organic cane sugar sodas. We also brought in some wine and some beer, locally-- some craft Florida beers,” says Co-Founder and CEO Francesco Balli.

The restaurant has a farmhouse kitchen feel, using pictures of old Florida and old Brickell to relay the fact that they are a Miami brand. Grove Bay owns a number of restaurants like the Big Easy WIne Bar right next door, but identify American Harvest as their “growth brand. The team plans to open their second location in South Miami where they will give it its own local flavor.

“Miami over all is having a little bit of a culinary renaissance in and of itself and Brickell is definitely a reflection of that,” says Balli.

With a menu including grass-fed burgers, cage-free rotisserie chicken, and and sustainable tuna, American Harvest Co. is a place you can feel good about eating at.

Clove Fills Mediterranean Gap in Fast Casual

Video Produced by Denise Toledo

Clove Mediterranean Kitchen was inspired by two partners with different experiences in the foodservice industry. Alex Revynthis has an extensive background in the food and beverage industry, most recently at Costa Coffee as their chief financial officer. Spiro Naos opened a number of Miami Subs sandwich shops before getting involved in other ventures. After meeting in New York, the duo decided to partner up on a Mediterranean fast casual concept.

While fast casual is the fastest-growing segment of the industry, the Clove team noticed the lack of Mediterranean options in the space — especially Mediterranean cuisine that focused on the simple, clean ingredients important to traditional cuisine. After being introduced to Greek Celebrity Chef Andreas Lagos, the pair knew he was the right guy to develop their menu.

Lagos studied cooking and pastry in Athens, Greece. He won a gold medal for Mediterranean cooking in Crete and was the head chef of Tomato in Santorini. With five books, Lagos is an authority on Mediterranean cuisine. That’s why it was important to him to import ingredients like honey and olive oil from Greece while also getting fresh produce from local vendors.

“The most important thing is ingredient, ingredient, ingredient. Fresh ingredient. We use a lot of olive oil, greek yogurt, greek honey, greek feta cheese,” said Lagos.

The consumer base in the business sector of Miami Beach is mostly executives with little time to spare for lunch. Executive chef and general manager at Clove, Daniel Becker, says that knowing their customers is critical in getting them through the door.

“Their dining or lunch choices are predicated on how fast can they have it, how healthy is it and what the quality and taste is,” he said.

In addition to clean ingredients, craft beer and sodas have been a major trend in fast casuals. While Clove offers local craft brews and cane sugar sodas, they also produce their own line of natural juices like Cardamom Apple Basil and Pomegranate Apple Mint.

Learn more about how Clove is going the extra mile on this episode of "Fast Casual Nation."

How Healthy Brand honeygrow Brings Touch Screens and Taste Together

Video Produced by Denise Toledo

As a part of the healthy fast-casual scene, honeygrow has already set itself apart from the crowd with its green menu. Founder Justin Rosenberg decided to make touch-screen ordering systems an integral part of his business plan, and the combination was a hit. With 15 restaurants in just four years, customers continuously come back for more.

We decided to stop in and talk to honeygrow Culinary Director David Katz to see what makes their restaurants so popular —and even Chef Katz had to give props to the ordering system.

“The guest feels like they are totally constructing their dish,” he said. “The visual aspect, I think, really helps and encourages people to not miss anything on the menu. Whereas if they just read off of paper or a long chalkboard, they would just kind of scan through it and kind of miss something they wouldn’t realize like, ‘Oh, they have those cool roasted carrots, I didn’t even notice those.'”

However, you can’t eat a POS system, which is why Katz put so much work into their menu. With customizable salads, stir-fry meals, and “honeybars”, customers get to choose a style of dish and add to it from a wide variety of tasty add-ins. For those looking for a more curated experience, the chef has put together a number of flavor profiles that have been proven to be delicious. Setting themselves apart from most fast growing fast casual chains, honeygrow also offers regional dishes that take advantage of ingredients local to each restaurant.

“This is the Chesapeake Crab Stir Fry, so you have our beautiful egg white noodles in an Old Bay tomato broth and then peppers, red onions, cherry tomatoes, [blue crab]… so this will be in our Baltimore and D.C. stores.”

Customers rave about the honeygrow experience. Watch this episode of Fast Casual Nation to learn how this concept is growing.

Only Organic and Clean Ingredients at green2Go in California

green2Go is a fast-casual concept started by two moms who were having a hard time finding healthy fast food that they felt was good enough to feed their children. After discussing their frustrations, Joulia Hantas-Kalah and Anita Allison decided they would open their own restaurant. Serving only clean, healthy ingredients, green2Go has created a loyal following in California.

What exactly is "clean" food? Anita explained what it means to them in just a few words: “Basically, it’s all natural.” Joulia added, "It’s real food! At the end of the day, we feel someone at some point has to draw that line, and that’s what we chose to do and how we opened in 2012.”

Joulia said some restaurants have tried to provide clean food, but they are often hindered by how difficult it can be to keep clean ingredients fresh because of their lack of preservatives. This leads those restaurants creating modified menus serving only the clean ingredients they are able to control. However, the green2Go duo didn’t want to change what people were eating. They simply wanted to make those dishes cleaner. So they took dishes like burgers, tacos, and rice bowls, and served them — just with better ingredients.

What do they use? Ingredients like antibiotic-free chicken, bread without high-fructose corn syrup, organic tomatoes, non-GMO corn tortillas, locally sourced blue cheese, and cage-free eggs. To keep their ingredients fresh, Joulia and Anita decided to invest in better storage.

“We’ve tried different things from getting lids that are always cracking, or plastic wrapping things as tight as you can get it, but still, it’s an imperfect world that we’ve created. But now we’ve saved about a 1.5 percent reduction in food costs just by being able to extend the shelf life of produce and not have as much waste,” Joulia said.

As restaurants start to turn towards serving better-for-you menus, Joulia and Anita are looking forward to the future.

“It makes us feel good because it makes our bottom line. It helps us afford our ingredients a little better now because the more people — supply and demand!” Joulia said.

Watch how this clean fast casual makes it all possible on this episode of "Fast Casual Nation."

Fast Casual Nation: Best Of 2016

Fast Casual Nation acts as your guide as to what makes a successful fast casual concept. Always on the go, today’s consumer is looking for high-quality meals — with just as much speed. This year, we got the chance to see some fast casuals that have found their groove within the segment. Here are Foodable's "Best of" episodes for Fast Casual Nation in 2016.

Spring Chicken

Spring Chicken translates the cuisine of its full-service counterpart, Yard Bird, to a more approachable menu for the fast-casual segment. John Kunkel, CEO of parent company 50 Eggs, explains how they are constantly impressing their customers from serving fresh, quality comfort food to making all their dishes from scratch. Their unique pairing of fresh, minty watermelon and crispy fried chicken has really resonated with their customers.

Marination Ma Kai

A lack of food trucks in Seattle led founders, Roz Edison and Kamala Saxton, to create their own modeled after Roy Choi‘s food truck, Kogi. After only a year-and-a-half on the streets, Ma Kai grew such a following that they decided to open their first brick-and-mortar with the same “Everyday Aloha” motto. Now with five different Marination locations and their original food truck, customers all over Seattle are biting into Hawaiian-Korean fusion dishes, like kimchi fried rice and a spam musubi.

Cava Grill

Cava Grill takes traditional Greek and Mediterranean cuisine and serves it up with a variety of customizable toppings to the modern consumer. The chef-driven fast casual focuses in on community to foster sustainable growth. Creating strong relationships, not only with their consumers but with their producers, Cava Grill has a loyal following. But nothing is more important to the fast-casual champion than their tasty cuisines, such as their spicy lamb meatballs and warm, fresh pitas.

Keep an eye out for all of this year's "Best of" episodes to learn more about which industry professionals changed the game in 2016!