You know a restaurant’s good when lunch patrons are lined out the door before the clock strikes noon. That was the case last Thursday as a crowd gathered at LYFE Kitchen on Hamilton in Palo Alto.
In just one year LYFE has built a reputation for delicious food that also happens to be incredibly healthy. The restaurant prides itself on its sleek yet inviting design, warm ambiance, excellent service, sustainability and so much more.
LYFE Kitchen’s second restaurant will open in Culver City in January. A restaurant in Tarzana will open sometime in the spring. Next—Cupertino and Mountain View, with Chicago also being scouted.
Those are just the company-owned restaurants. LYFE Kitchen has unveiled a franchise model that emphasizes assigning a territory to franchisees. The company began accepting inquiries through its web site last week.
But none of that was foremost in the minds of diners Thursday—they were looking for a tasty lunch.
Nathan Fahrenthold eats at LYFE at least once a week. His choice Thursday was soup. "This is not fast food, but it’s quick—come in, half an hour and go," he said.
Fahrenthold added his kids, ages nine and 12, love the place. "We’re vegetarians. My favorite thing is the veggie burger—they taste like real burgers." He also raves about LYFE’s selection of beers.
Josh Ross is also a regular, dining at LYFE “since it opened.” His selection was salmon washed down by a kale-banana smoothie. Why the smoothie? “It’s an easy way of getting a dose of kale without it tasting like kale.”
Executive Chef Jeremy Bringardner is going to love Josh’s comment. Bringardner carefully perfected the recipe—blending ingredients like a chemist—bitter, sweet and acidic. Jeremy has a degree in nutrition and has worked in several fine restaurants.
When creating new recipes, Jeremy says taste is always paramount. If people don’t like the food, they won’t be back. After taste, comes nutrition. “My goal is to create nutrient-dense recipes that taste so good that you have no idea how good it is for you.”
In fact, the benchmark for dishes at LYFE is less than 600 calories per serving and less than 1,000 mg of sodium.
A stroll through the kitchen at LYFE reveals fresh fruits and vegetables, grass-fed beef and free-range chicken. What you won’t find at LYFE Kitchen is also notable—no preservatives, no high fructose corn syrup, no deep fryer, not even a microwave.
Chuck Imerson, a Vice President at LYFE Kitchen, says the plan of the restaurant founders is to create healthy food for the masses. Does that sound grandiose? Consider this—LYFE Kitchen’s business structure resembles a major corporation as opposed to a mom and pop restaurant. The President and CEO of restaurants is Mike Roberts, former Global President and COO for McDonald’s. A second president and CEO, Stephen Sidwell, oversees the Grocery division. There are nine vice presidents. The Chief Brand & Communications Officer, Mike Donahue, was lured from McDonald’s. Clearly, LYFE Kitchen plans to rule America’s food future.
So the restaurant on Hamilton is the beta site for LYFE and every diner a test subject. Why here?
"We chose Palo Alto because it would be vocal," said Imerson. All those times that someone at LYFE asked you about your meal—they were truly listening. Listening, tweaking and perfecting.
"We’ve reacted to feedback and we’re ready to start growing," said Imerson.
Sitting at a sunny table Thursday, out-of-town diners lured by LYFE’s reputation enjoyed flatbreads and fish tacos, likely unaware that the restaurant they’re trying could be multiplied by the hundreds or thousands in the coming years. They were simply drawn by the food.
And for Imerson, that’s the whole point.
"I want guests to come taste great-tasting food from my kitchen," he said.