HOLLYWOOD, Fla. — Shannon Allen never imagined she’d start the country’s first 100% certified organic fast food restaurant with a drive-thru.
Allen, speaking at The Packer’s Global Organic Produce Expo Feb. 1, said she found a void in the market.
She decided to fill that void when her family’s serious health needs made her feel powerless and desperate.
“If nobody has the balls to serve organic fast food, then I’m going to do it,” Allen said. “And that was the day Grown was born.”
The first clincher was cooking healthy pre-game meals for her husband, two-time NBA champion Ray Allen. He was getting older and battling injuries. That led to a TV show, “The Pre-Game Meal,” featuring athletes and chefs as they prepared healthful tailgate food.
The final catalyst was her son, Watson, who almost died before doctors discovered he had Type 1 Diabetes. Allen recalled one time when he got shaky, weak and needed a meal — quickly — and Allen couldn’t find anything fast and healthy.
“Then I thought, ‘If this is a problem for you, then this is a problem for other people,’” Allen said.
Citing Food Navigator USA, Allen said 50 million Americans consume fast food each day, and one in three children is overweight or obese. Also, 78% of all foodservice industry visits are to quick-service restaurants, and 56% of U.S. adults look for healthy menu items when they choose a restaurant.
“The problem is, we all want convenience without compromise — local, sustainable, nutrient-dense, delicious, plus fast,” Allen said.
“People are looking for plant-based. They’re looking for plant-forward. They’re looking for keto, pescatarian, vegan, nutritarian, omnivore,” Allen said. “These are all labels, but what it means ultimately is that everybody eats differently, and everybody wants to know that when they go to a restaurant, there is something there for them.”
At its five locations in Miami, Orlando, Fla., Middletown, Conn., the Hard Rock Stadium of the Miami Dolphins and the Watsco Center at University of Miami, Grown facilities are peanut-free, and menus offer Paleo, vegan and gluten-free options. Grown offers catering, family-style meals and kids meals. All food, including dressings, soups and marinades, is cooked from scratch on site, Allen said. There’s also a rooftop farm.
Menu items cost more, but she’s able to keep the kids’ dinners to $7 and adult meals $10 to $17.26, depending on the type of protein.
Eighty-eight percent of Americans say they are willing to pay more for healthy food, Allen said.
In its first year, the Miami location had $2.68 million in sales with $23.04 as an average sale and 40% of revenue coming from the drive-thru, she said.
Like anyone in the foodservice industry would suspect, going all organic is costly.
“When we started, our food costs were 60%. You gotta get real creative,” Allen said. She sources from grocery stores when it makes sense and piles on fixes like switching from sliced frozen bananas to whole fresh bananas, when adding just a bit of labor makes it worthwhile.
Food costs are down to 32.5% now, and she’d like to lower those costs to the 20% range.
Another challenge is when an organic product isn’t available. Organic asparagus and Brussels sprouts are particularly difficult to source consistently, she said.
When that happens, Grown employees tell customers that the menu item is unavailable at the moment. When Florida hurricanes raged through the state and destroyed crops, some of the Grown locations had to close for six weeks.
But most customers understand when something is unavailable, Allen said. Her research shows 60% of the people who enter the restaurant ate there the day before.
Grown targets busy moms like Allen, who need to feed their children fast. One of her slogans is “Eliminating mom guilt. You’re welcome.”
Allen said she wants to focus on streamlining the menu by lowering menu prices, inventory, waste and customer wait times, as well as improving margins and customer experience. In food purchasing and procurement, Allen wants to reduce food costs, inventory and waste, while improving the supply chain’s resiliency and diversity.
Allen is working on training staff to better upsell and conducting consumer research to reach new customers, increase customer frequency and spending.
“Everybody wants something quick, and there’s nothing wrong with that,” Allen said.