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In its first year, Amy’s Drive Thru served up a half-million veggie burger patties.Impressive. But for many diners, the key numeric question surrounding the organic, vegetarian fast-food restaurant is: Where will Amy’s put outlet number two?The most common...

Amy’s Drive Thru in Rohnert Park marks a successful first year

In its first year, Amy’s Drive Thru served up a half-million veggie burger patties.Impressive. But for many diners, the key numeric question surrounding the organic, vegetarian fast-food restaurant is: Where will Amy’s put outlet number two?The most common...

Amy’s Drive Thru in Rohnert Park marks a successful first year

In its first year, Amy’s Drive Thru served up a half-million veggie burger patties.

Impressive. But for many diners, the key numeric question surrounding the organic, vegetarian fast-food restaurant is: Where will Amy’s put outlet number two?

The most common request by patrons to the Rohnert Park eatery involves obtaining a drive thru closer to home, even when the diners hail from Canada or Australia. The second-most common plea is to be sold a franchise.

“We have requests from every state” for new eateries, said Andy Berliner, who with his wife, Rachel, started the drive thru one year ago as an offshoot of their ever-expanding Amy’s Kitchen natural foods company.

For now there is just one Amy’s Drive Thru. But the Berliners and the managers of the Petaluma-based company believe they have created a winner in this distinct alternative to traditional fast food dining.

The restaurant’s veggie burgers, fries, burritos, pizzas, salads and milkshakes all are organic. Only the sodas don’t qualify for that label, and even they are free of preservatives.

The privately held company isn’t disclosing eatery sales numbers, but “we’re doing about double what we thought we would,” said Paul Schiefer, director of restaurant operations.

Before the restaurant opened in mid-July of 2015, managers estimated the drive thru would serve about 80 hand-scooped shakes a day. Instead, on busy days the staff there makes about 500.

“We definitely see a bright future for this concept,” Schiefer said. One reason for the optimism: the majority of customers at the meatless restaurant aren’t vegetarian.

But enough with the preliminaries. Patrons want the scoop on what Schiefer calls the “big secret,” the possible location of the next drive thru.

Andy Berliner agreed to give a hint. “I’m 80 percent sure it will be Marin County,” he said. He hopes to open there in about 18 months.

Rachel Berliner cautioned that “nothing is firm” but “it’s very exciting.”

Change is afoot both for Amy’s and the U.S. restaurant industry.

The food manufacturer now employs 90 people at the drive thru and another 2,300 in its Amy’s Kitchen manufacturing operations in Santa Rosa, Oregon and Idaho.

Total revenues for the company last year approached $480 million. Amy’s Kitchen ranked fifth among all U.S. makers of frozen food single entrées, with nearly $257 million in sales, an increase of 16 percent for the 52 weeks ending May 15, according to Chicago-based market research company IRI.

Along with slowly expanding the drive thru business, the Berliners are making plans to build food manufacturing plants in New York and, in a new announcement, Portugal.

However, the recent vote by Great Britain to leave the European Union prompted Andy Berliner to say he now must learn what risks the company would face by building a plant about 180 miles north of Lisbon near Santa Maria da Feira. A key question is what new duties or tariffs could be slapped on future food products moving to the United Kingdom from the continent.

Meanwhile, in the restaurant industry the word “organic” is popping up with increasing frequency, along with such terms as “natural,” “antibiotic free,” “hormone free” and “GMO free.”

“We’re talking a lot more about clean eating, with descriptors like fresh and organic and natural,” said Lizzy Freier, managing editor at Technomic Inc., a food service consulting company in Chicago. Part of this change is driven by consumers who have been buying such products in grocery stores and now look for them when eating out.

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