Amy's Kitchen has plans for its first fast-food restaurant off Highway 101 in Rohnert Park. (COURTESY OF AMY'S KITCHEN)

Amy's Kitchen gets OK for Rohnert Park drive-through restaurant

Organic vegetarian frozen food maker Amy's Kitchen, which will open its first restaurant later this year in Rohnert Park, is going toe-to-toe with fast-food chains in an attempt to change the way people eat.

The Petaluma-based company received a permit from the Rohnert Park City Council last week for a 4,000-square-foot restaurant with a drive-through one block from In-N-Out Burger and across the street from a future McDonald's.

The building itself, featuring a living roof made of grass, solar panels and a water tower to collect rain runoff, will be revolutionary, planners say, and will reflect the values of the company.

"It will be a pretty large statement there at the entrance to the Wilfred/Dowdell Specific Plan," said Marilyn Ponton, director of development services, referring to the 250,000-square-foot commercial project in northwest Rohnert Park adjacent to the Graton Resort and Casino. "It's very different. People will come to look at it."

Developers hope to have the restaurant open by mid-November.

Amy's Kitchen is the latest business to locate in Rohnert Park. The city has streamlined its permitting process in an effort to attract businesses and spur economic growth after nearly going bankrupt three years ago.

Vacant industrial and commercial space has recently been snatched up, adding a Walgreens, Chipotle Mexican Grill, two fitness chains and Flipside Brewhouse among others. An Oxford Suites hotel is planned in the development next to Amy's Kitchen.

David Trachtenberg, the architect who designed the restaurant, said buildings with living roofs are becoming trendy.

"It is a prototype for Amy's," he said. "They are a plant-based company. They're one of the world's largest purveyors of organic, vegetarian food, so the idea of a green roof ties into the ethos of the company."

The project's drive-through raised some questions among council members. Other Sonoma County cities such as Petaluma and Sebastopol have put a hold on projects because of drive-throughs.

Vice Mayor Amy Ahanotu was against changing the zoning of the project to allow for a drive-through, but ultimately voted to move the project forward.

Trachtenberg said the drive-through was important to give the establishment the appearance of being a fast-food restaurant. Andy and Rachel Berliner, who founded Amy's in 1987, want the venture "to be the McDonald's of the future," he said.

"It comes from a very strong philosophical position," Trachtenberg said. "They want to look at themselves across from McDonald's and Burger King and they want to play the game on their turf."

He said the new restaurant will provide a healthy alternative to traditional fast food.

"The culture is shifting and (Amy's) is going to be a big player in a different way in which the planet is going to eat," he said. "There's no denying that people go to drive-throughs. That's how people eat. Let's give them at least one choice that's healthy for them and healthy for the planet."

Council members said the unique restaurant would be a good fit for the city.

"I think it's going to be a great asset to Rohnert Park," said Mayor Joe Callinan. "I think, with what's going on in that area, to have something different and have something stand out will be a draw in Rohnert Park."

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