Discount-to-go restaurant company on a mission takes over New York

Every time one reads an article about what founder and CEO Sam Polk is trying to accomplish with Everytable, his low-cost takeout outlet, he’s described as a mission-driven entrepreneur, more than by profit.

Everytable is known for introducing inexpensive convenience foods to Los Angeles and charging different prices based on the customer’s zip code, a sort of social equity project.

The price varies depending on the zip code of the store and varies for each dish. For example, a $7.75 taco dish in Chelsea, New York, a more upper-class neighborhood, might cost $6.20 in working-class Inglewood, California.

And now Polk, who is 42 and lives in Los Angeles, has brought Everytable to New York, having opened two locations in Chelsea and another in the East Village. He plans to open six Everytables in New York City by the end of 2022, including in Harlem and Flatbush, Brooklyn.

It has proliferated on the West Coast where it now has 28 sites in California. It opened 15 new locations in 2022, doubling in size, and expanded to Orange County, San Diego County and San Francisco. Two more are on the way to the west coast.

What underpins Everytable’s mission is that most poor and working class people live on food desserts, cannot afford healthy meals or vegetables, eat high fat fried foods, suffer from diabetes and obesity, which reduces their longevity. Its website noted that “Everytable aims to redefine the food landscape in the same way McDonald’s did fifty years ago”, noting that it specializes in nutritious, fresh, made-from-scratch foods.

Despite its growth in California, Everytable has yet to prove that it can attract large audiences in New York and elsewhere.

When Polk contemplated leaving Wall Street, he described what he endured as a “quarter-life crisis.” He said he hadn’t reached the top of Wall Street but “could see if from where I was sitting.”

But he was reading Taylor Branch’s three-part book on Martin Luther King and civil rights, and it “forced my decision.” What do you want to do with your life beyond great returns that could contribute to a more fair and equitable world? Polk wondered.

Polk was first involved with FEAST, a non-profit organization that aimed to help family food providers make choices through nutrition education, cooking classes, free products and support groups. in food deserts. He realized that most people in South Los Angeles (he grew up there) lived on a per capita income of $13,000 and had to walk half an hour to Trader Joe’s to eat healthy.

Everytable operates as a venture-backed company, which is backed by mission-driven investors, such as Creadev International, Gullspang Re:Food, Kaiser Permanente Ventures, the Libra Foundation, among others. It completed a $55 million Series C funding venture to support new market expansion.

Everytable is fighting against what Polk calls the winners of the food system, exemplified by big fast-food chains and food conglomerates like Unilever and Nestlé who have “figured out how to sell food for less, through centralized production and automation huge, and make the food non-perishable.”

He described this food system as “extremely effective in all but one area; it’s affordable, delicious, ubiquitous but deadly. He noted that 40% of Americans are obese and what most consumers want is “healthy, fresh food.” It’s the biggest market opportunity, period, knowing that healthy, fresh food is a huge market.

His food in Compton, a poor Los Angeles neighborhood, “is soaring, and we’re profitable. If we can be profitable in Compton, Watts and South Los Angeles, as well as middle-class neighborhoods like Hollywood and Brentwood, this concept can work,” he said.

In expensive New York City, Everytable has opened a commissary in a former Pfizer industrial building in South Williamsburg, Brooklyn and transports meals to its various outposts. Because it relies on prepared meals and not sit-down meals, it doesn’t need to hire kitchen workers in the back, which keeps its costs down.

He acknowledged that rent is high in New York, but most restaurants need around 2,000 square feet while his retail stores fit in 500 to 800 square feet, at a fraction of their rent. It can operate with just one employee and with streamlined operations that are much simpler than restaurants that have to cook their food.

Its meals cover breakfast, lunch and dinner, starting at $5.25 for a platter of carnitas tacos and peaking at $9.95. Some of its most popular dishes are chicken shawarma with yogurt sauce, salmon adobo, and fish with rice and prawns. Meals can be reheated on site, and it also offers smoothies and juices.

Although the menu is fairly standardized on both coasts, it uses local New York suppliers such as Greyston Bakery (which is also a non-profit organization and dedicated to creating jobs for hard-to-reach people). employ) and Sanzo Sparkling Water.

When I visited Chelsea’s new outlet in New York, a few blocks from Penn Station, the salesman Tyree had a friendly tone and patiently answered any questions (he didn’t know I was a journalist). It looks like a modernized and sleek take-out shop, with tables where you can dine in person.

My two dinner choices of salmon and turkey tacos (which were tasty) were just under $20 with tax, inexpensive by New York standards, and about $10 cheaper than ordering two salads at Sweetgreen’s or Chipotle.

Supporting its food mission, Everytable has also introduced a university in Los Angeles (and plans to create a comparable one in New Yok City in the next few years) where it trains employees in food preparation and how to become an entrepreneur. It allows entrepreneurs to open Everytable franchises, without having to provide capital.

From June 14, it launched its meal delivery service although it only operates in initially limited postcodes. It launched in Brooklyn, then will expand to Lower Manhattan and Northwest Brooklyn by the end of the summer.

Unlike most restaurants that rely on third-party services for delivery, it provides its own delivery service.

Yelp’s initial customer reaction to Everytable from often-critical New Yorkers has been overwhelmingly positive. One guest liked the chicken curry taco and teriyaki rice bowls at the Chelsea location, although he noted that each bowl offered less than 500 calories, “so I’m not sure how a heavy eater would find that’s a deal.” Nonetheless, he said the ingredients were “clean and cheaper than a typical Sweetgreen bowl.”

Asked about the three keys to his future success, Polk answers “execution, execution, execution”. This involves “logistics, retail, e-commerce and technology. We have the greatest opportunity in the world to make food affordable and accessible, but we have to execute well.