Who Knew Fast Food Could B.(so)Good?
CRANSTON, R.I. __ When you walk through the doors of b.good burgers in the Garden City plaza, one can’t help but notice the pictures of farmers and other local purveyors lining the walls. Among them, there are blackboards listing ingredients from the menu and the source of the product. The message of this fast-food burger place is clear: know thy farmer.
Enjoying the beef? Scan the wall, the cattle farmer is there, smiling back at you. Like the French fries? The potato farmer is there too. Like the salad? You get the idea.
A year ago, Anthony Depaiva opened the door to his b.good franchise near the center of Cranston. At the time, he knew b.good was the chain for him when he learned about their mission but he didn’t realize how the company would swell his passion for local business.
“I chose b.good because I believe in everything they do! They believe in farm-to-table, local agriculture… and supporting local farms,” Depaiva said. “I love that everything is local.”
Depaiva is one of a series of entrepreneurs joining the local-is-sustainable movement, a niche market b.good burgers is quickly defining in New England. Founded in 2003, the Boston-based company launched a trend called the “better burger,” which is a rapidly growing segment of the fast food industry. The idea here is to use natural, organic and locally-grown ingredients in all of its food; and, as it happens, the burgers tend to be better -- juicer, healthier... delicious. The b.good founders, Anthony Ackil and Jon Olinto got their inspiration from a family member they identify on the company website as Uncle Faris.
“Fifteen years later, we started a business together around a simple idea — make fast-food ‘real’ by making it the way it should be… by people, not factories,” reads a message from the founders.
What they developed was a fast food restaurant experience where customers feel good about what was on their plate. The beef, the vegetables, the breads, the French fries and the ice cream for the milkshakes all come from local vendors. Today, the company has annual revenues of $1.5 million and coordinates 18 storefronts in Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New Jersey, North Carolina and Rhode Island.
Stephen Boyle, The Cranston Chamber of Commerce President, recognizes the value behind b.good’s support of local business.
“I’ve eaten there several times and the food is phenomenal,” Boyle said. “It’s a win-win that they advertise their local purveyors on the wall so you know where the food is coming from and you know your money is staying local.”
Depaiva’s store in Garden City in Cranston was the first in Rhode Island. When he launched the franchise, he set out to form the same relationships that other franchisees had with their vendors in northern New England; in Depaiva’s case his vendors would be local to Rhode Island.
Specifically during the winter months most of the food provided to the Northeast is grown in California and Mexico. As the drought in California worsens, it is becoming even more necessary to source local food. Paul Glover, local economic issue expert and founder of the Philadelphia Orchard Project and of Ithaca Hours, one of the first local currency systems, foresees the importance of local sustainability.
“We won’t be able to rely on the rest of the country forever, especially with California’s drought expected to extend 10 to 20 years,” Glover said. “We need to go closer to home in the growing season and find ways to continue to grow in the winter.”
Towards that purpose, Depaiva continues to sample bread rolls, scout farms and taste merchandise to determine the best homegrown products in the area; he also seeks out like-minded business owners who share his core business values. As a result, he has created a food supply ecosystem that fosters the local economy. His web of vendors includes at least a half-dozen Rhode Island-based companies and, given the size of the state, most are within a 10-mile radius of his b.good storefront.
First stop, Warwick Ice Cream Company located just four miles from b.good. Warwick Ice Cream provides the ice cream for b.good’s vanilla, chocolate, strawberry and coffee shakes. The dairy-food shop has been a family-owned business for over 80 years. Gerard Bucci Jr. is the President of Warwick Ice Cream and commends b.good’s success as a chain.
“b.good seems to be doing really well with our products. They are really enjoying the ice cream and the shakes they make with the product,” Bucci said. “So, we’re there once- maybe twice-a-week refilling them.”
Next up, just nine miles down the road from b.good is Confreda Greenhouses & Farms. Confreda has been a family business for more than 90 years. Jonathan Confreda is the fourth generation on the farm and works closely with local restaurants and is responsible for developing the relationship with b.good in Cranston.
“To b.good, we sell, sweet corn, cucumbers, summer squash, zucchini, tomatoes and they also really like our kale,” Confreda said. “There are more vitamins in local produce because it is so fresh.”
Fortunately for b.good, Confreda Farms can produce kale all winter long in its greenhouses. Confreda’s kale can be found in b.good’s kale smoothie as well as their various kale bowls.
Finally, just two miles down the road is A&J Bakery, which is responsible for b.good’s gluten-free white and multi-grain rolls. Joseph Hitzemann and his wife Amy have owned the bakery since 2007 but their passion for the industry stems back much further. Joseph’s dad instructed him that people always have to eat so food is a reliable business. However, his passion doesn’t reflect the economical sustainability.
“I honestly enjoy doing for other people, whether it be making them cookies or making the kids smile,” Hitzemann said. “We made them happy at one point in their life and it works for me.”
The gluten-free rolls served at b.good are never frozen and each was made from scratch. The vegetables found in most b.good products have a fresh flavor that one won’t find at a mega-chain supermarket. And the ice cream used to make the shakes is famous to Rhode Island. Without genetically modified organisms and corn syrup all of the products are specifically made for the consumer.
“It’s a fast food chain,” Depaiva said, “But we’re doing it the right away.”