Jul 28, 2014

Q&A: Can LYFE Kitchen be a Healthy McDonald's?

LYFE Kitchen CEO Mike Roberts speaks with Palo Alto Patch about his vision for the new 'lyfestyle' brand, which opens its first restaurant in Palo Alto in August.

Q&A: Can LYFE Kitchen be a Healthy McDonald's?

After a long stint as President and COO of McDonald's Corporation, Mike Roberts is launching LYFE Kitchen, a socially-responsible brand that .

LYFE, an acronym for "Love Your Food Everyday," will feature a menu crafted by star chefs Art Smith and Tal Ronnen and designed to offer what they describe as "good-tasting, convenient, affordable and healthy food."

Roberts oversaw 31,000 McDonald's restaurants in 118 countries after rising through the ranks of that company over 30 years.

Aaron Selverston: From McDonald’s to LYFE Kitchen—that is quite a leap. Of all the seemingly most improbable elements of this business plan, one might imagine it would be simply getting healthy food out to the masses. Do you envision being able to scale something like this the way you scaled McDonald’s?

Mike Roberts: Well Aaron, we’re committed to this. Great tasting food that is affordable, that’s nutritionally packed, that’s convenient, is the story of LYFE. We had to start somewhere—the journey began today, here in Palo Alto. We chose Palo Alto because of the people, because of the innovative spirit here. Because a lot of early adopters to movements that move across the country start here in California. We can get our produce here fresh, local, organic, hormone-free, antibiotic-free, all within a hundred miles of Palo Alto. So, it’s exciting.

Our customers here in Palo Alto will decide the trajectory of LYFE Kitchen. Obviously we believe that this need is one of the great unmet needs in the country. Great tasting food that is also good for you.

AS: I have to say, I’m almost standing here in disbelief knowing that I’m talking to the former CEO of McDonald’s. What I’m dying to know is how you are going to convince people that they should pay a little bit more for something that’s healthy.

MR: Well, in terms of my history at McDonald’s, I was part of the Newman’s Own salad launch, fruit and yogurt parfait, the chicken movement, the apple dippers that became part of the Happy Meals, the smoothies, and you know, the drink systems, etc. For me, this lifestyle of feeling good and eating good and doing good has always been a part of who I am. And so this is the next phase of my life, another part of my life journey.

How will we convince people? I think they’ll have to try it. Right? I think people are skeptical about this. Can it taste good and be good for me? This is impossible because everything they’ve experienced—if it’s healthy, they’re standoffish, it’s food I won’t know. It’s food I won’t understand. When I eat I won’t feel satisfied. It’s going to be expensive.

So the notion of LYFE Kitchen is, it’s going to taste good—we have two world-class chefs. It’s going to look good—all of our product will be on china, like I’m holding here in front of you. It’s going to be nutritionally packed with herbs and spices and fresh vegetables. And you can get a Niman Ranch hamburger. You can get a fish taco, a breakfast burrito. You can have wonderful barramundi in a wasabi sauce for dinner. You can have a glass of wine, and know that it’s all been prepared with a great deal of care, that has been, sort of, developed by our panel, from our doctors to our chefs.

When you taste the food, I think you’ll have a different view. You’ll love this food, and you’ll find that it is reasonably affordable, given all the other offers that are in the market, which are also great. But we’re going to have a special emphasis on fruit and vegetables and proteins that are great for you.

AS: What are you going to call the protein that is not actually meat?

MR: It’s called Gardein Protein, and it’s a Vancouver Company. So you can have a Gardein Protein burger, you can have Gardein Protein on one of our five salads, you can have Gardein Protein on one of our five flatbread pizzas. And our teammates will be able to explain our menu in a very simple way. Our website will be robust.

AS: How many people are you hiring for this store?

MR: We’ll have three chef managers and another 50 support team members.

AS: How many suppliers have you brought into your network?

MR: The number is 50 now, and it’s growing, because the more that suppliers realize what we’re about, the more interested and intrigued they are in being a part of it. We’ve got a very good team, a team that’s experienced with a lot of know-how, and they’re committed to doing the right thing.

AS: Are you already thinking forward to the next town to open a store in?

MR: Truthfully the only thing I’m thinking about now is opening Palo Alto and making sure that we execute on our promise, and beyond that our guests will tell us, you’ve got to come here, you’ve got to come here, we love LYFE Kitchen.


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