Everytable has come up with a unique pricing model meant to make fresh food available at any income.
Los Angeles is a bifurcated city. North of the 10 and west of the 405 sits a cluster of neighborhoods that, for the most part, have adequate access to public resources—the schools are pretty good, per-capita income is reasonably high, and there are grocery stores that residents can afford.
“But south of the 10, there’s neighborhood after neighborhood that is excluded from the general economy, from the education system, and definitely from the healthy food world,” says Sam Polk, the co-founder and CEO of Everytable. “That’s why we started in South L.A.”
Everytable is a new kind of healthy-fast-food joint that, on Saturday, marked its official opening with a party outside its first South Los Angeles location. Its modern, spare, trendy decor looks straight out of Silverlake, but it sits right in the middle of a food desert in one of the city’s poorest areas. There are some grocery stores here, but they sit too far apart from one another, especially considering many residents lack access to a car. Lots of shopping gets done at convenience stores, and lots of food gets picked up at very inexpensive, quick-service restaurants.
That’s the atmosphere that Everytable is trying to fit itself into, while at the same time increasing local access to healthy, cheap food. To get it done, they’re using an innovative pricing model, charging different prices for a meal in different store locations, so that higher-priced restaurants can help subsidize those found in lower-income areas.
At its first South L.A. location, Everytable is selling each plate of food for around $4. For that amount, you can get a bowl of pozole rojo, spaghetti squash, Jamaican jerk chicken, or yucatan chili, all cooked in a central kitchen in Redondo Beach by Chef Craig Hopson, of New York’s Le Cirque fame. In the downtown location that’s expected to open in November, that same food will cost around $8.
“We take into consideration the economic realities of the local community,” says David Foster, Everytable’s other co-founder. “We wanted to make the food as accessible as possible so that we could hopefully make some strides toward getting people what we think is a human right, which is access to healthy, fresh, delicious food.”
To keep costs low, everything is packed in to-go containers at that central kitchen and then delivered to the shops, where customers can choose to grab and go or heat the food up in one of the available microwaves and eat in the store. That way, the company avoids the costly overhead associated with a full kitchen and staff for every restaurant. Only two people staff each store, mainly to work the point-of-service machines.
As a result, Foster and Polk say even the restaurants in low-income neighborhoods should turn a profit, though the margins will be thin.
This isn’t the founders’ first foray into the world of healthy food access in South L.A. Everytable grew out of Polk’s South L.A. non-profit organization Groceryships, which provides fresh produce, nutrition education, cooking classes, and a support group to participants in the neighborhood. In 2014, Foster started working with Groceryships as a volunteer, and eventually he and Polk thought up a new idea.
“We were hearing from a lot of participants that [the program] was helpful, but that it’s also difficult to eat healthy every day when you’re busy with multiple jobs and multiple kids,” says Foster. “So we started to talk about what else we could do. And that’s really where the idea for Everytable came about.”
Everytable is arriving with a wave of other restaurants and organizations trying to improve healthy food access in L.A. In January, Roy Choi and Daniel Patterson opened up Locol, another restaurant trying to provide affordable healthy options in the middle of a food desert—this one in the Watts neighborhood. Once their downtown location is open, Everytable plans to open restaurants in Inglewood, Comtpon, Boyle Heights, West Hollywood, Venice, and Culver City, to name just a few. They plan to have four stores open by the end of 2016, and another 10 open by the end of 2017, says Foster.
And they intend to spread the message with broad canvassing efforts and word-of-mouth publicity. In South L.A., that wasn’t too difficult thanks to all the Groceryships participants and the non-profit and community organizations that already knew Polk. Polk also has a relationship with Father Greg Boyle of Homeboy Industries, an organization that dedicates itself to rehabilitating ex-gang members and formerly incarcerated people in Boyle Heights. Boyle launched a pilot program of Groceryships out of Homeboy Industries in 2013, the Los Angeles Times reported.
That connection with the community has guided their work so far, says Polk. “This is about showing respect and humility to this community. This is about engaging with the people here so [Everytable] wasn’t something we were bringing in, it was something that was growing from the community.”