On November 10th, the Organic Coup opened its doors in Walnut Creek, a cozy section of the East Bay suburban sprawl. Once inside, it didn't seem like much beyond the standard fare we've come to expect. There's the menu on the wall, there's where you order, there's the drink station, there's the restroom.
But this particular fast food establishment separates itself from all others in the country with one extremely important difference: everything it offers is organic.
For the past 14 years, Erica Welton has been a buyer for Costco. In January, she transitioned into her new role as the head honcho of a bold new experiment to create a fast food menu composed of entirely organic items. Eleven months later, the Organic Coup opened for business.
The name of the establishment isn't a play on "chicken coop," but rather, the actual dictionary definition of a coup. See, Welton isn't just about opening one store. She's trying to systematically change the way that consumers look at fast food, and how companies create their menus. As the press release announcing the opening states, the restaurant "was hatched to spark a food revolution in which consumers help to transform the conventional food system." You can even sign up for News and Updates as part of the "Coup Nation."
"It's a takeover," Welton says over the phone.
The reasons behind this enterprise are two-fold. First, at Costco, Welton saw the growing demand for organic products. "We could see the shift was happening, and people were speaking with their dollars, starting to transition to cleaner foods, non-GMO, no synthetic chemicals, no pesticides," Welton says. But all of the organic offerings were either at sit-down restaurants or in grocery stores. This didn't jive with the needs in her own life.
"You have [to get the kids to] soccer practice, basketball, baseball, all over the place, and you're looking for places to eat," she says. "There was no fast convenient food, outside of Chipotle, where you could just run in and grab something."
Welton took a page out of Chipotle's book by keeping her menu extremely specific, offering a selection more in line with an In-N-Out or Chick-Fil-A, than the throw-everything-at-the-wall-and-see-what-sticks Darwinian nature of the menus at Jack in the Box or Carl's Jr. The Organic Coup sells a chicken sandwich, a chicken wrap, a chicken bowl, popcorn, organic sodas and ... that's it.
This limited menu isn't to curate a signature style, as much as it's inherent in the all-organic sourcing. "If we were a restaurant serving 50 different items we would struggle," Welton says. "Having a very limited menu definitely helps in term of the sourcing." The chicken comes from Mary's Free Range Chicken, from nearby Fresno. It's fried in organic coconut oil, sourced from nearby Richmond. The popcorn comes from nearby Popcornopolis.
And that perhaps points towards whether or not this idea can spread and if it can be the revolution Welton's trying to spark. Being located in California gives the Organic Coup the rare ability to source from a wide variety of organic farms. This opportunity simply does not exist everywhere in the country. Also worth mentioning is the store's price point: the $8.99 for either the sandwich, wrap, or bowl is a tad steep for a culture used to spending two bucks on a burger.
But as far as to whether or not this idea's going to be successful in the Bay Area, well, if the first week's any indication, it's only a matter of time before they'll announce their second location.
"People are coming here for all reasons," Welton says. "'We heard you guys are from Costco,' or 'We like that it's a woman-run company,' or 'We love that it's organic.' Some people are talking about the [no] GMOs. Some people are saying, 'I need to eat clean food,' or 'I'm a cancer survivor, and I can't eat out.'"
No matter the reason they're walking in, they certainly are, and that's proof enough that the concept can work in this locale. "We're so pumped and shocked by the community outreach," she says. "They're speaking with their dollars."
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