Plant City, the popular 100% plant-based food hall and marketplace on South Water Street that opened in 2019, now has a sister “fast food” franchise churning out quick and healthy eats in the corporate-dominated gauntlet of West Main Road in Middletown.
And according to patrons, many of whom waited months in enthusiastic anticipation of its January opening, Plant City X is living up to the hype.
Inside a refurbished 2,600-square-foot brick building that formerly housed a Papa Gino’s franchise, a site situated among a Taco Bell, a vacant Ruby Tuesday’s and a Burger King, the mid-January soft opening included hundreds of customers snaking through the drive-thru, ordering from a simple but eclectic menu, none of which has any meat or dairy-based ingredients. Even the to-go packaging comes from recycled plant-based materials.
The inside dining area currently has seating for 85 customers, though current Department of Health regulations have limited allowable indoor capacity by half. An outdoor patio provides additional seating.
But there is no limit to its drive-thru operation, the first of its kind on the East Coast. The restaurant is now open daily from 8am to 11pm. Customers keen on the fast-food experience can get their burger (try the truffle) and shake (chocolate or vanilla) fix without the guilt. Also on offer are breaded tofu chicken nuggets, chili (cashew) cheese fries, and three types of macaroni and cheese dishes (try the buffalo), among a host of other items.
Co-owner Kim Anderson, who has partnered with world renowned chef and entrepreneur Mattew Kenney under the Plant City moniker, said she is not necessarily out to proselytize to folks on the positive outcomes of a plant-based diet, which run from better personal health to decreased environmental impact. To her, the numbers [and the food] speak for themselves: Approximately 18% of carbon-based emissions come from the agricultural economy. And the cost of healthcare due to preventable diseases exacerbated by unhealthy eating hovers around 75% of total healthcare spending in the US annually.
“I say let the food bring the message,” Anderson said.
Throughout the year, the two Plant City operations employ between 90 and 140 people. Many of the employees from the Providence location travelled to Middletown to get the shop up and running, training the new hires, many of whom are Aquidneck Island locals. The concept is to take some of the bestsellers from the Providence location across the bridge to Middletown, offered at a lower price point to compete with the surrounding establishments whose business model relies more on the convenience of take-out.
“We are 100% mission based,” said Anderson, who is also the co-founder and managing partner of Ever Hope Capital, a private venture capital firm that “invests in entrepreneurs and businesses displacing animals from the supply chain … by supporting innovative and scalable alternatives to animal-based products,” according to its mission statement.
Anderson said her culinary and sustainability ventures work hand in hand. “This is a social organization,” she said, adding that she had been getting feedback for months from loyal customers of the Providence location encouraging expansion to greater Rhode Island.
Asked about the response to the Middletown opening, Anderson related an anecdote of a family finally able to give their young son, whose allergies prevented Happy Meals, a taste of the drive-thru experience. The mother even sent Anderon a text-messaged picture of the grinning lad later that day.
“Everybody here in Middletown has been fantastic,” Anderson said. “The town was outstanding to work with and we’re so pleased so many of our loyal customers from around Rhode Island have found us here, too. I’ve heard stories about people driving 45 minutes to get here and try us out.”
Although her desire to expand her health-conscious fiefdom was a couple of years in the making, the timing of the latest venture was not lost on Anderson. While many elements of pre-pandemic society will no doubt return after the crisis abates, others should remain, she said, such as a greater awareness of our food sources.
Plant City X patrons are presented with an informative card along with their meals, which serves as a reminder of all the ways that plant-based eating can help to stall the worst environmental and personal health effects of meat consumption.
“The reason we are in a pandemic is because of animal agriculture,” said Anderson. “We create food that is sustainable, compassionate and delicious.”