Epic Sustainable and Local Fastfood Restaurants
by Jen Drake
Healthy menus and seasonal local produce are rare commodities at fast food restaurants but I predict that they will spawn a new generation of on-the-go citizens demanding a better option than our current Sad Meals from McDonalds that pander to already nutritionally-starved individuals.
“Serve with Love” is Burgerville‘s mission statement. With 39 restaurants in Washington and Oregon and expansion in the process, Burgerville began as a creamery in the 1920s and turned into a fast food local restaurant in 1961 serving fresh seasonal produce.
Burgerville has a special niche by serving all natural burgers, real ice cream shakes, and 100% authentic food free of hormones and harmful additives. All local dollars earned by Burgerville are kept in local banks. 80% of food products come from 150 to 200 miles of the restaurants. Burgerville also purchases wind power credits equal to the total energy use in all their restaurants which is equivalent to removing 1,700 cars from the road or planting 2,400 acres of trees. They also use only trans fat free canola oil which is then recycled and turned into biodiesel.
Why aren’t more fast food restaurants popping up with this same idea? Last year I read a review in a local paper about a long-time Tacoma resident moving back to the area and opening up Jimmy John’s chain, a fast food “gourmet” sandwich restaurant. With my interest piqued from the story I headed over to Jimmy John’s where I was quite impressed with how fast they whipped up the sandwich on a line that would have made Henry Ford’s assembly line blush. One taste of the sandwich made my stomach churn, but insistent that it MUST be good, I finished the whole sandwich and suffered an afternoon stomach ache from my bull-headed quest to find a good fast food restaurant.
The pull to Burgerville is their strong commitment to healthy nutritional food, 100% recycling, wind energy, biodiesel, and if that doesn’t convince you, they provide quite the health benefit package to employees. Employees pay $15 a month and have no deductible and their benefits include vision and dental. If an employee has a family, their out-of-pocket cost is $90 a month; if a parent and child, $30. All salaried employees are given $3,500 a year for educational endeavors and there is a Jack Graves Scholarship Fund of $10,000 for students.
I met Jack Graves, Burgerville’s CFO, and I asked him if he eats his company’s food and if so, does he get sick of it. He told me he eats at a different Burgerville every single day, 5 days a week, loves the food, and that he has never ever missed work and ran a marathon once with potential plans for more in the future. When I asked him what he was most proud of, he said that it is knowing Burgerville’s dollars stay in the local community and that many of their suppliers’ children work in their restaurants, and that his company looks at their health coverage for employees as an investment, not as a cost.
Graves believes that Burgerville is a steward to the community, ensuring that their values align with those of families for good nutrition and fair compensation, including ensuring their farming partnerships provide quality care to their employees. All the small farmers Burgerville works with treats their migrant workers fairly, provides places for their kids in school and provides good homes for the workers.
In the summertime, one can pick up a Blackberry or Strawberry milkshake after finishing up a side dish of Walla Walla Sweet Onion Rings or Sweet Potato Fries.
My personal favorite menu consists of the Spicy Anasazi Bean Burger, Pepper Jack Cheese, Chipotle Mayonnaise, Lettuce and Tomato on a Sesame Seed Bun with sweet potato fries and a chocolate hazelnut milkshake.
Currently, Burgerville is serving a roasted portobello Focaccia sandwich and panko portobello wedges. They partnered with two Portobello mushroom growers: Yamhill County Mushrooms, a Food Alliance certified sustainable farm, and family owned Ostrom Mushroom. The focaccia bread is from Schwartz Brother’s Bakery in Seattle.
The closest Burgerville to Tacoma is in Centralia, Washington, opened in 1976 and offers free wi-fi. Their address is 818 Harrison Avenue and they open at 7 a.m. and close at 10 p.m. seven days a week. Every time I drive to Portland, I always stop in for my Anasazi burger and sweet potato fries, washed down with their wondrous Sumatran drip coffee.
We need to educate more people on eating local sustainable food and not contribute to the waste and nutritional deprivation of mainstream fast food restaurant businesses that care not for employees or consumers but rather their stockholders’ financial pockets. What you eat really is who you are and has a much larger impact than your little world — you impact the life quality of animals, farmers, migrant workers, your local community’s health and finances, healthcare, and pollution contribution, amongst many others.
Burgerville is a solid example of what fast food restaurants could attain to if only consumers demanded it. Imagine a world of fresh Oregon strawberries and fresh Pierce County rhubarb mixed together in a tasty dessert that is nutritionally satisfying as well as pleasuring the taste buds, made to order at a drive-through window on break from work. You can, because Burgerville stands as a beam of light to our Pacific Northwest community and growing desire to work with nature rather than against her.