After opening a series of restaurants all over Los Angeles and the infamous Kogi truck, Roy Choi is turning his attention to 99-cent fast food. If you're thinking mass-produced burgers and pink slime, think again.
On the menu at Loco'l, Choi's new healthful fast food project, expect a burger cut with grains and tofu, a special sauce that Choi promises will incorporate all of the flavors of a fast food burger, Monterey jack cheese and charred scallion pickled relish. It's all piled on a long fermented bun, made to taste like a soft bun you'd find at any fast food restaurant.
"Imagine your favorite restaurant, run by chefs and everything is around $2," Choi told The Times. "We're using our knowledge as chefs to try to re-create a really great fast food burger, because that's what people are addicted to and accustomed to," said Choi.
Choi and partner San Francisco chef Daniel Patterson are looking to go toe to toe with existing fast food restaurants such as McDonalds, Taco Bell and Burger King, but with their own chef-driven versions of fast-food favorites.
"I went out and spoke at MAD and I basically kind of just told the chef community we need to get more involved instead of just feeding the people who can afford our food," said Choi. When a restaurant thinks it's busy serving 100 people a night, "the fact is 100 times that are never going to eat our food."
In an attempt to keep Loco'l accessible, prices will be cheap. Choi is hoping to charge no more than $6 for anything on the menu.
"It's really important that things are 99 cents and $2 and $3 because we can't put ourselves next to KFC or McDonald's or Burger King and have our food be $7," said Choi. "We're thinking about things like shawarma, falafel, rice bowls, noodle bowls, chips and ice cream, but everything will be cooked the way we would cook it in a restaurant. So we have to figure out how we can get this burger or taco or falafel bowl or whatever to be $2 and $4."
In order to keep prices low, Choi and Patterson are experimenting with ingredients. The chain's inclusion of grains and tofu in its burger is just one attempt at keeping prices down.
"These huge corporations buy futures on their meats, buying cows three generations before the cow is even born," said Choi. "How do we compete with that when we are only getting wholesale prices after the fact?"
Choi and Patterson plan on opening the first Loco'l in San Francisco in spring 2015 and a second location in Los Angeles a few months later, but the plan is to eventually go global and franchise with carefully selected franchisees. Choi says he envisions chefs in other countries doing their own spin on Loco'l.
"As chefs we are not trying to be saviors, we just want to do something that shows others how it can be done, and hopefully influence the current state of fast food to make more moral and healthful decisions," said Choi. "Maybe by creating our own business, we can exist side by side, so even if they won’t listen we can work as a competitor to make them listen.
"Once me and Patterson clicked I really felt like we were unstoppable," said Choi. "It's like a band. People are going to know we are coming and they're going to be excited."
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