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A new way to think about fast food

A crowdfunded restaurant in Los Angeles aims to challenge the traditional fast food model with the belief that fast food restaurants can truly empower the communities they currently underserve. 

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    Chef Roy Choi speaks onstage at a PBS panel in Los Angeles in August 2015. Choi and partner Daniel Patterson are the owners of Locol, a new Los Angeles fast food concept.
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Opening a restaurant is notoriously risky, and a fast food restaurant, with cheap meals and quick service, is no exception. Add in better quality ingredients, skilled food prep, and a new business model, and chefs Roy Choi and Daniel Patterson, owners of the new fast food restaurant Locol in Watts, Los Angeles, have their work cut out for them.

At the recent opening, crowds gathered outside, waiting for the much-anticipated opening of the partially Indiegogo-campaign funded fast food restaurant. The two chefs were inspired to challenge the traditional fast food model by a belief “that fast food restaurants can truly empower the communities they currently underserve.” Choi, Patterson, and their team worked to create a restaurant model with a menu that appealed to a population living in an underserved area with few fresh markets and lots of fast food restaurants. Their goal was to create a community-centric place where customers could get quick, portable meals that were tasty, affordable and nutritious. Locol’s menu items range from US$1 to $6, and include items like "BBQ Chicken Burgs" and "Bean and Cheese Foldies". 

Large chain restaurants like McDonald’s make up for lower net profits with volume, and their sheer size gives them an immense amount of buying power when it comes to negotiating prices for their ingredients. Most restaurants are more limited in their buying power, meaning that it is harder for them to negotiate lower prices for ingredients because they are only purchasing a limited amounts of goods. Choi acknowledged the risk in their venture, saying that “it's very hard to turn a quick profit at our prices,” but he and Patterson told the Wall Street Journal that they were working with their food supply vendors to look for solutions. 

Choi, Patterson, and their team decided to use Indiegogo to finance their newest venture rather than raising money from traditional investors. Choi says that this choice had to do with being able to have better control of business decisions. He and his partners opted for funding that would allow them to be flexible—to be able to invest in their space, product, and employees. This means building commissary kitchens for community use and serving fresh dishes made from scratch. Choosing to use fresh products instead of frozen ones mean that Locol also provides basic culinary skills training for kitchen staff. Traditionally, fast food is designed not only to be prepared quickly but also with a minimal skill set. Patterson explained that by offering employees the chance to learn more complex cooking skills, Locol will enable employees to, “go on to work in any kitchen in the world.” 

Locol is open seven days a week from 11:00 AM to 10:00 PM. A second Locol location is expected to open in the San Francisco Tenderloin neighborhood later this year.

This article first appeared in Food Tank.

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