Everytable Is The Next Restaurant Chain Trying To Make LA's 'Food Deserts' Bloom
It's not easy to make food that's healthy and cheap but a new company is trying to do just that -- and turn it into a profitable business model. Meet Everytable, a Los Angeles takeaway restaurant chain on a mission to make "nutritious, fresh food affordable and accessible to all."
The chain already had five locations and, this week, opened its newest outpost, in Compton. The line of residents filled the parking lot, waiting to get a taste of its Yucatan chili, tamarind lettuce chicken wraps, cashew pesto salad and grain bowls. Sold from small, grab-and-go storefronts, these items retail for... well, it depends where you live. Everytable charges more for meals at some locations than it does at others. A salad that sells for $5 in Compton goes for $8 in Santa Monica.
Everytable opened its first storefront near USC in the summer of 2016. The venture was successful and the company followed with locations in downtown L.A., Baldwin Hills, Santa Monica and Century City. But the real goal is to bring healthy, made-from-scratch meals to areas often referred to as "food deserts," hence the newest outpost, at the corner of Alameda and Compton.
BACK UP, WHAT'S A FOOD DESERT?
The United States Department of Agriculture defines a "food desert" as a low-income area where at least 500 people or 33 percent of residents live more than a mile from a grocery store.
That may not seem far, if you have a car. If you don't and you rely on public transit, it means you're limited in how often you can get to a grocery store and how much you can carry when you go. In neighborhoods with few supermarkets, many residents are stuck shopping at local mini-markets and convenience stores which are stocked with an abundance of sugary, highly processed foods and few fruits and vegetables. That's why areas like this get the name "food deserts."
WHY AREN'T THERE MORE HEALTHY PLACES TO EAT THERE?
Remember what we said about providing food that's healthy and cheap? It's hard. Really hard.
That's partly why LocoL in Watts recently closed its doors. Roy Choi's bold experiment offered a healthier take on burgers and tacos but they still cost customers $5 to $10. Many Watts residents thought that was still too expensive -- and they didn't love the food.
Bianca Loreto stopped by Everytable's Compton debut before heading to her Bible study group, down the street. She knows that when it comes to health vs. money, some people have no choice
"Those people in the other areas can afford that at the drop of a dime. Not everybody in this neighborhood can," she says.
Everytable CEO Sam Polk, a former hedge fund trader, says there's a common misconception about why healthy restaurants fail in low-income neighborhoods.
"People think it's because folks in underserved communities don't want healthy food and that's actually not true," he says. "It's more that it's hard to make a restaurant work at very far above a $5 to $6 price point."
In neighborhoods where money is tight, fast food has an edge.
"They have figured out how to make a profitable business at $5," he says. "They have ingredients like soda and potatoes that are really cheap and are really shelf stable. It's harder to run a business that sells food at $5 using fresh, healthy, made-from-scratch meals."
Everytable is trying to do it anyway.
That's why Kathy Thomas who lives not far from Compton, in Gardena, started writing emails to the company about opening a location closer to her.
"I saw they kept opening them in more affluent areas and I wasn't happy about that," she says. "What about us? We need healthy food too!"
SO HOW'S EVERYTABLE DOING IT?
Well for starters (pun intended), it's not trying to offer a healthy take on soul food. It's offering a healthy take on healthy food. The menu stars salads and grain bowls, not burgers and tacos.
As for its big "secret," it comes down to economies of scale: Everytable prepares all of its food in a single kitchen.
"That allows us to open stores like [Compton], which is 800-square-feet and a beautiful grab-and-go location, but there's no kitchen in it," Polk says. The cost savings of sharing a single kitchen means the company can make "the highest quality and most delicious food available for less than fast food."
Food is prepared every morning and anything that doesn't get sold is donated to a local food bank.
Everytable locations feature a prominent pay-it-forward board, where customers can buy an extra meal for someone they don't know and put a note on the wall. If you're hungry and broke, you can take a note and cash it in for a meal.
The company also changes the price of its food based on the neighborhood, charging more in more upscale neighborhoods.
WHAT DO LOCALS THINK?
Thomas says that Everytable's prices make their food worth it.
"I can get my meals here and I'll be good for the week. And compared to what I'd spend in the market, I'm actually saving money, so this is a win-win," she says.
Other residents at the opening are optimistic about the chain's success. Latifa Ward took a break from her Jamaican jerk chicken to say, "We will have to see how it does. I hope it does well because this is really good."
She says it's no replacement for comfort food but she's glad to have the alternative.
"I'm not going to lie. I like my McDonalds. I do. But I would like to have healthier food at times as well," Ward says.
Everytable has its sights set on Brentwood and Cal State L.A. for its next two locations. Polk hopes those will open by November.
You made it! Congrats, you read the entire story, you gorgeous human. This story was made possible by generous people like you. Independent, local journalism costs $$$$$. And now that LAist is part of KPCC, we rely on that support. So if you aren't already, be one of us! Help us help you live your best life in Southern California. Donate now.