One year after New York Times critic Pete Wells dropped a controversial goose egg upon mission-driven fast food restaurant Locol, the mini chain from chefs Roy Choi and Daniel Patterson is still here and finding reasons to celebrate.
During a rocky 2017, the original Oakland Locol location closed, Patterson revealed the Watts Locol wasn’t making money, and the two remaining locations shuttered in December to retool, leaving some wondering whether they would come back at all. But, both Locol locations are opening this month, along with a third brand-new Locol at the Whole Foods in San Jose.
According to Patterson’s Instagram post, the newest Locol location will make its debut with a grand opening event on January 16. Putting a Locol inside a grocery store once nicknamed “Whole Paycheck” seemingly marks a departure from the Locol tradition of opening in underserved communities — but, as Choi argues, it’s not a departure from the Locol mission.
Choi told Nation’s Restaurant News that the Whole Foods partnership may actually help further its service-oriented goals. Locol will staff and manage the location, and in addition to using more organic ingredients from the store, Choi says the new location will expose the brand to an audience that sympathizes with the Locol mission. “Maybe that can go both ways,” he said. “Maybe we can give insight to where Whole Foods could start opening in neighborhoods where Locol is at. That’s really the long game for us.”
Whole Foods, for its part, has no plans to interfere with Locol’s mission, however the team opts to pursue it at the San Jose location. “It’s really important to us through the friends program that we have our partners create and flourish their own identity within the store,” Lauren Evans, global coordinator for Friends of Whole Foods, told Eater. Plus, as Choi mentioned previously, Locol’s plan is to have some locations serve as revenue centers to support the more community-focused locations, like the one in Watts.
In the meantime, Choi told Nation’s Restaurant News that all three locations will serve streamlined menus that focus on burgers and “foldies,” a quesadilla-like sandwich, to better align as “one holistic company.” Although he thought Locol would be bigger a full two years after opening the first Locol, it is “very, very close to profitability.”
The Whole Foods partnership, which brings with it the possibility of easy expansion, may help that along. According to Evans, a perk of the “Friends of Whole Foods” program is that it gives partners “an opportunity to take their concepts that could be flourishing very well in their local community and work with us to expand into new markets into a more safe way.” She said Whole Foods has been “in conversations with [Locol] about the opportunity to expand.”
Choi confirmed as much to Nation’s Restaurant News: “If it works out, we can open in more of their stores, or maybe by getting to know us and our community and workers and our mission,” he says, “maybe they see a window open where they might be able to open in Watts or Compton or East Palo Alto and West Baltimore and South Chicago.”