But a chain of healthy fast-food restaurants in the city, called Everytable, is doing things differently. The restaurants have different prices based on the median income of residents living in surrounding neighbourhoods.
Founded in 2015, Everytable's first location in South LA serves seasonal, healthy dishes for less than $5 (R67) each. At its second location in downtown LA, where residents typically earn much more, the same items cost around $8 (R108). The same idea goes for the three other locations in wealthier Santa Monica and Century City, and lower-income Baldwin Hills, co-founders Sam Polk and David Foster told Business Insider.
This week, the company received $5.3 million in funding from several investors, CNBC reported, including Acumen, TOMS Social Enterprise fund, NBC News anchor Maria Shriver, and Kimbal Musk, a food entrepreneur and the brother of Elon Musk.
The menus at Everytable's South LA and Baldwin Hills locations, which change seasonally, feature salads, bowls, and kids' meals. Dishes include kale chicken Caesar salad, Jamaican jerk chicken, and Yucatan chili. In Santa Monica, the location offers items like roasted pork al pastor, spaghetti and meatballs, and smoked salmon bibimbap.
Though dressings add extra calories, the menu is relatively healthy. Unlike most cheap fast-food joints, there aren't any burgers or fries. Instead, kids can eat barbecue chicken salad, Cajun blackened fish, and turkey-quinoa meatballs.
The chain sources its meats, fruits, and vegetables from local purveyors and makes the dishes from scratch every morning, Foster said.
The food is stacked on refrigerated shelves so that customers can grab it and go. If they want to stay and eat, there are a few tables and microwaves. Any leftover meals are given to homeless shelters every day.
Everytable was born out of Polk's non-profit, called Groceryships, which gives LA families scholarships to buy groceries. The families get weekly gift cards for organic produce, meetings with nutritionists, medical screenings, and recipes.
The team is able to keep prices low at Everytable — items range from $3.50 to $5.95 in South LA and Baldwin Hills— because the small, grab-and-go store saves on rent and doesn't have many employees, Polk said. Meals are prepared in bulk at an off-site kitchen and delivered to the stores, which keeps production costs down. He added that being based in California, where a third of the country's produce is grown, allows the chain to easily source fresh food from nearby farms at a low price.
Plus, the boosted prices in the downtown LA location, which opened in 2016, keep the South LA menu affordable. To anticipate demand and avoid wasting food, the chain also tracks data about which meals are sold at each location.
Polk and Foster said that keeping prices consistent across neighbourhoods doesn't make sense considering that residents of South LA earn a median household income of $30,882 (R414,000), which is low compared to the rest of the city. Those in downtown LA and Century City make considerably more: a median income of $99,900 (R1.3 million) and $95,135 (R1.2 million) respectively.
"Our first two locations are only about 3km apart, but the needs of each community are so different," Foster said. "Why not build a model where everyone can access the same meals at a price that makes sense for them?"
Plus, the costs of the food at the downtown LA location — $8 for a bowl or salad — are still reasonable. Other healthy fast-food chains in LA, like Simply Salad and Mixt Greens, charge between $7 and $13 for similar items.
Everytable's two head chefs, Craig Hopson (the former executive chef of New York City's Le Cirque) and Johnny Yoo (a former chef at LA's A-Frame), draw inspiration from local LA cuisine when creating the menus. They also work with South LA residents to develop the dishes. For example, the recipe for Everytable's Pozole Rojo bowl came from a local mom who was awarded a Groceryship.
"We wanted to be sure we're appealing to the communities we serve," Polk said.
Everytable plans to expand to more LA-area neighbourhoods in the future, with three more locations in Compton, Brentwood, and Watts in the works, Foster said. Their goal is to make sure that everyone in the city can feed themselves easily.
"Stores in food deserts are self-sustaining, while stores in more affluent areas help us grow," he explained. "Each store is an important part of the larger mission."
Correction — July 9: A former iteration of this story stated incorrectly that Chipotle invested in Everytable.
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