Among the attractions at Better Burger NYC: air-baked fries and organic Karma Ketchup.© BETTER BURGER
Better Burger NYC is the brainchild of Louis Lanza, the owner-chef behind Josie’s and a few other local full-serve joints. The restaurant debuted in 2001 and now operates three Manhattan locations.
Among the attractions at Better Burger: antibiotic- hormone- and nitrate-free (and sometimes organic) meat and poultry; organic, air-baked fries; expeller-pressed extra virgin olive and canola oils; smoothies and snacks made with at least 85 percent organic ingredients; and even an organic condiment bar serving Karma Ketchup.
In addition to natural and organic foods, Burgerville’s 39 Oregon and Washington locations place a strong emphasis on using local ingredients. The Vancouver, Washington-based chain was founded in 1961 by George Propstra, and is owned and operated by The Holland.
Burgerville’s parent company has focused on sustainable practices since 1922 and works with local growers and farmers who provide the company with all-natural Oregon County Beef, Alaska halibut, Walla Walla onions and Tillamook cheese. In the early 1990s, Burgerville further distanced itself from traditional fast food by offering seasonal items like sweet potato fries, huckleberry milkshakes and strawberry shortcake.
"We realized that we had to identify something that set us apart from the rest," Jack Graves, Burgerville’s operations director, explained in 2004. The company’s commitment to local foods and seasonal specials has brought prosperity even in tough times. In early 2004, Burgerville’s sales jumped 14 percent, even after a Northwestern mad cow disease outbreak.
Burgerville’s emphasis on local foods and sustainable practice included, in 2005, using wind energy to power its restaurants and, in 2006, switching to trans fat-free oils, which predated most big fast food chains. All of which won praise from one of fast food’s toughest critics, Fast Food Nation author, Eric Schlosser.
Air-baked fries seem to be de rigueur in the world of healthy fast food and Topz is no exception. The first restaurant opened in 1998 after founder Mark Avila Matters vowed to devise a hamburger with half the fat of others. Today the chain has nine locations in California, Michigan and Texas and lays claim to the "Leanest Burgers in America!" While the array of organic and natural foods is similar to that of other healthy chains, Organic To Go approaches the concept a little bit differently, offering freshly prepared "grab-and-go" fare, as well as delivery and catering options. The Seattle-based company, the first fast-casual restaurant and retailer to receive organic certification, currently operates nine locations in Washington and southern California.
It seems Gary Hirshberg’s notion that healthy fast food will become ubiquitous wasn’t so much farfetched as a bit bullish. But when it comes to those hundreds of locations, don’t count O"Naturals out yet. After announcing it would franchise the concept in early 2006, the company said it received more than 1,000 inquiries from around the world—including some from current and former fast-food franchisees.
WILLIAM I. LENGEMAN III is a Pen-nsylvania-based freelance food writer.