Building a New Fast Food Brand and Culture – what does loco’l mean for an industry
How do you start a fast food brand? If you’re Roy Choi, with a typo.
Choi, the LA-based chef who popularized the Korean taco—and by extension, the food truck movement—is working together with restaurateur Daniel Patterson to launch a new franchise called loco’l.
“I spelled it wrong, to be honest,” he told interviewer Evan Kleiman, on a recent episode of KCRW’s Good Food. “I wrote the name ‘local,’ but I wrote it ‘l-o-c-o-l.’ It’s supposed to be an ‘a,’ obviously.”
“But something about it stood out,” he added.
In an industry commanded by decades-old, worldwide chains, loco’l does stand out. The idea is to compete with brands such as McDonald’s, KFC, Pizza Hut in terms of price and flavor, but using healthy and sustainable ingredients. So your $2 burger might taste like a new In-N-Out menu item—only its beef patty is cut with tofu and grains, and its squishy whole-grain bun was devised by Tartine baker Chad Robertson.
Patterson and Choi plan to use these sorts of existing connections with chefs, farmers, and community leaders to sidestep the supply chain issues that compel other chains to rely on substandard ingredients and unsound management practices. Unlike “Fast Food Plus” franchises such as Chipotle or Pita Pit, loco’l is aimed squarely at low-income neighborhoods. Look for the first loco’l to open in San Francisco sometime next year, with a second location to follow in Oakland soon thereafter.
According to Choi, the move is upend the fast food business from the inside-out, to create meals as accessible and appealing as anything the competitors serve—what he calls “addictive poison”—with a menu that celebrates America’s cross-cultural palette. Think falafel, tacos and noodle bowls.
Loco’l arrives at a time when the industry has reached a crossroads. Fast food workers nationwide are staging strikes in protest of low wages, while the earnings of once-unstoppable chains have plateaued. Yum! Brands, for instance, the conglomerate that owns KFC, Taco Bell, and Pizza Hut, recently launched its pilot Banh Shop—an upscale Bánh Mì establishment—in an effort to reinvigorate its stalled market share.
Is this all the result of a decade filled with documentaries and reports exposing the social, nutritional and environmental cost of fast food? A product of consumers’ desire to eat fast and healthy? Assuming we can change our global eating habits, which brands win? Can an idea like loco’l usurp McDonald’s, or will it force the rest of the industry to adapt? Choi and Patterson aren’t certain either way but, either way, their brainchild may squarely insert healthy even further into the fast food culture.