Each time one reads an article about what founder and CEO Sam Polk is trying to accomplish with Everytable, his inexpensively-priced take-out food outlet, he’s portrayed as an entrepreneur driven by a mission, more than profit.
Everytable is known for introducing inexpensive prepared meals to Los Angeles, and charging different prices based on the customer’s zip code, a kind of social equity project.
The pricing varies depending on the shop’s zipcode and varies for each dish. For example, a $7.75 taco dish in Chelsea, New York, a more middle-class neighborhood, might cost $6.20 in working-class Inglewood, Calif.
And now Polk, who is 42-years-old and lives in Los Angeles, has brought Everytable to New York City, having opened two locations in Chelsea with another in the East Village. It intends to have six Everytables opened in New York by the end of 2022, including in Harlem and Flatbush, Brooklyn.
It has been proliferating on the West Coast where it now has 28 locations in California. It opened 15 new locations in 2022, doubling its size, and has expanded to Orange County, San Diego County, and San Francisco. Two more are on the way on the West Coast.
What underlies Everytable’s mission is that most poor and working-class folks live in food desserts, can’t buy healthy meals or vegetables, eat high-fat, fried foods, suffer from diabetes and obesity, which curtails their longevity. Its website noted that “Everytable aims to redefine the food landscape the same way McDonald’s did fifty years ago,” noting it specializes in nutritious, fresh, made-from-scratch food.
Despites its growth in California, Everytable still must prove it can appeal to a wide-ranging audience in New York City and elsewhere.
When Polk pondered leaving Wall Street, he describes what he endured as a “quarter-life crisis.” He said he hadn’t reached the apex of Wall Street but “could see if from where I was sitting.”
But he was reading Taylor Branch’s three-part book on Martin Luther King and civil rights, and it “forced my decision. What do you want to do with your life beyond great returns that could contribute to a more just and equitable world?” Polk wondered.
Polk was initially involved in FEAST, a non-profit that focused on helping family food providers make choice though nutrition education, cooking classes, free produce and support groups in food deserts. He realized that most residents of South Los Angeles (he was raised in that city) lived on $13,000 per capita income and had to travel a half hour to a Trader Joe’s for healthy food.
Everytable operates as a venture-backed company, which is supported by mission-driven investors, such as Creadev International, Gullspang Re:Food, Kaiser Permanente Ventures, the Libra Foundation, among several others. It completed a $55 million Series C funding venture to support new market expansion.
Everytable is battling what Polk calls the winners in the food system, exemplified by large fast-food chains and food conglomerates like Unilever and Nestle’s that have “figured out how to sell food the cheapest, through centralized production and huge automation, and make the food non-perishable.”
He described this food system as “tremendously successful in all but one area; it’s affordable, delicious, ubiquitous but fatal.” He noted that 40% of Americans are obese, and what most consumers want is “healthy, fresh food. This is the biggest market opportunity, period, figuring out healthy, fresh food is a massive market.”
Its food in Compton, a poor neighborhood in Los Angeles, is “flying off the shelf, and we’re profitable. If we can be profitable in Compton, Watts and South Los Angeles, as well as middle-class areas like Hollywood and Brentwood, this concept can work,” he said.
In pricey New York City, Everytable has opened a commissary in a former Pfizer industrial building in South Williamsburg, Brooklyn and transports the meals to its various outposts. Because it relies on prepared meals and not sit-down dining, it doesn’t need to hire back-of-house kitchen employees, keeping its costs down.
He acknowledged that rent is high in New York, but most restaurants require 2,000 square feet or so whereas his retail shops fit into 500 to 800 square feet, at a fraction of their rent. It can operate with a single employee and with streamlined operations, much simpler than restaurants that have to cook their food.
Its meals cover breakfast, lunch and dinner, starting at $5.25 for a carnitas taco dish and culminating at $9.95. Some of its most popular items are chicken shawarma with yogurt sauce, salmon adobo and rice and shrimp fish. Meals can be warmed up on site, and it also offers smoothies and juices.
While the menu is pretty standardized on both coasts, it taps local New York purveyors such as Greyston Bakery (which is also a non-profit and dedicated to creating jobs for the hard to employ) and Sanzo Sparkling Water.
When I visited the new Chelsea outlet in New York, several blocks from Penn Station, sales associate Tyree set a friendly tone and answered every question with patience (he didn’t know that I was a reporter). It looks like a modernized, stylish take-out shop, with tables where you can dine in person.
My two choices for dinner of salmon and turkey taco (which were tasty) cost just under $20 with tax, inexpensive by New York City standards, and about $10 cheaper than ordering two salads at Sweetgreen’s or Chipotle.
Supporting its food mission, Everytable also introduced a university in Los Angeles (and expects to start a comparable one in New Yok City in the next few years) where it trains employees on food preparation and on how to become an entrepreneur. It enables entrepreneurs to open Everytable franchises, without needing to supply capital.
Starting on June 14, it introduced its meal delivery service though it’s only operating in limited zip codes at the outset. It launched in Brooklyn and then will expand into Lower Manhattan and Northwest Brooklyn by the end of summer.
Unlike most restaurants which rely on third-party services for delivery, it provides its own delivery service.
Initial reaction from Yelp customers to Everytable from often critical New Yorkers was mostly positive. One guest liked the curry chicken taco and teriyaki rice bowls at the Chelsea location, though he noted that each bowl offered under 500 calories, “so I’m not sure how a big eater could find this a deal.” Nonetheless, he said ingredients were “clean and it was cheaper than a typical Sweetgreen bowl.”
Asked the three keys to its future success, Polk replies, “execution, execution, execution.” That involves “logistics, retail sales, ecommerce and technology. We have the biggest opportunity in the world to make food that is affordable and accessible, but we have to execute well.”