Their success marks a milestone: After decades of public hand-wringing about the empty calories and environmental impact of fast food, the farm-to-table notions that have revolutionized higher-end American restaurants have finally found a lucrative spot in the takeout line. The result already has a nickname: farm to counter.
The numbers were startling: Shares of Chipotle Mexican Grill shot up 12 percent after the company reported a nearly 26 percent spurt in its quarterly profit. For the fast-food industry, this was fresh evidence that the world of Big Macs and Doritos Locos Tacos has room for a menu with healthier-than-average food and higher-than-average prices.
But it came as no surprise to a new generation of smaller fast-food chains that are coming up fast behind Chipotle and its peers, and taking its “food with integrity” mantra even further.
A handful of rapidly growing regional chains around the country — including Tender Greens, LYFE Kitchen, SweetGreen and Native Foods — offer enticements like grass-fed beef, organic produce, sustainable seafood and menus that change with the season. Most promise local ingredients; some are exclusively vegetarian or even vegan. A few impose calorie ceilings, and others adopt service touches like busboys and china…
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