The clean-eating trend of choosing whole, unprocessed foods continues to gain traction among foodservice operators of all shapes and sizes, predominantly in the form of progressive menus at newer fast-casual restaurants and forward-thinking college/university operations.

Clean Menu Defined

Menus focus on fresh produce, antibiotic- and hormone-free meats, superfoods and wholesome grains while avoiding canned, frozen or other processed/manufactured foods, sugar and excess sodium. Menu transparency represents an important attribute, with culinary staff making the majority — if not all — sauces, condiments and other add-ons from scratch.

Impact on Design and Equipment

  • More equipment, prep and food displays in front of the customers
  • Extensive refrigerated prep tables for holding mix-and-match vegetables, proteins and other made-from-scratch foods
  • Sauce and dressing-making equipment and supplies for house-made flavor enhancers
  • Blenders, juicers, water filtration systems and soda taps for nutritious smoothies, and flavored waters made in-house

Concept Close-Up: Currito

Currito-Line Employees

Founded by Joe and John Lanni (sons of the Great Steak & Potato Co. founder Nicola Lanni), Currito focuses on “globally inspired, locally sourced” food with virtually all menu items made from scratch and prepped in-house. The chain avoids sugar, limits salt, sources local as much as possible, and focuses on wholesome, unprocessed foods, and antibiotic-free chicken. Through franchisee expansion, the chain now has 19 stores throughout the East, Midwest and Florida, including some smaller outposts in nontraditional locations like airports and college campuses.

Currito offers information about every ingredient in each house-made condiment, salsa, sauce and dressing, and it showcases many plant-based protein options like tofu, beans and chickpeas. The chain marinates and bakes its tofu in-house for added flavor. This year, chain execs say they are working on transferring the menu to include all non-GMO ingredients.

Customers can choose from a selection of signature dishes, or create their own by choosing their base (grain bowl, salad or burrito) and add-ons like organic tofu, grilled chicken or grilled steak, fresh vegetables, and globally inspired condiments, sauces and dressings with Indian, Asian and Mexican flavors.

Currito relies on an extensive, refrigerated prep table along the main serving line to showcase the fresh foods. The back of the house has extra prep tables, too. Additional equipment includes a walk-in cooler, a range for caramelizing onions and cooking beans, shredders for making slaws, and a convection oven for baking tofu and cookies. A blender also prepares fresh, superfood-rich smoothies.

Clean Menu Fast Casuals

Sweetgreens - this Washington, D.C.-based salad chain showcases locally sourced and "honest" ingredients with a menu that changes seasonally and varies by region.

Le Pain Quotidien - This Brussels, Belgium-based bakery/restaurant with locations throughout Europe and the U.S. focuses on Le-Pain-Salmon-Tartinetartines topped with fresh vegetables and other ingredients, whole-grain salads, fresh fruit, yogurt, oatmeal, veggie frittatas, and more. The chain bakes its preservative- and additive-free bread fresh daily and uses organic ingredients whenever possible.

LYFE Kitchen – former
McDonald's executives started this fast-casual restaurant founded on sustainably sourced, wholesome ingredients as well as low-calorie, nutritious and balanced dishes. The chain uses only grass-fed beef and avoids the use of white flour, sugar, high fructose corn syrup and GMOs in menu items.

Pokéworks– this fast-growing concept by Sheldon Simeon caters to the clean-eating crowd with sustainably sourced seafood and other fresh ingredients.