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After months of buzz and anticipation, Amy’s Kitchen debuted its first organic fast-food restaurant Monday as hundreds of hungry customers lined up at the new Rohnert Park restaurant to sample its all-vegetarian menu.

The “healthy” fast-food alternative, created by Amy’s Kitchen founders Andy and Rachel Berliner, focuses on an all-vegetarian (and vegan/gluten-free friendly) menu that includes double-stack burgers, chili cheese fries, milkshakes, burritos, pizza and salads that are good for the planet and a whole lot better for you than traditional fast-food.

Eager eaters had been circling the Amy’s Drive Thru for weeks as staff began training and final touches were put on the Golf Course Drive restaurant.

“We really weren’t expecting this many people on the first day,” said Andy Berliner.

Word began to spread on social media last week, when Amy’s hinted to its fans on Twitter and Instagram that the restaurant would open Monday. Most of the customers on Monday had seen a cryptic Facebook post or two from friends or had been checking out the lot daily to see when the restaurant would open, Rachel Berliner said.

“We’ve done no advertising. It’s all people telling other people,” she said.

The eatery opened at 10:30 a.m. Monday. By 2:30 p.m., the 1,000 printed menus were gone. Over an eight-hour period, about 800 customers were served, according to an Amy’s employee. That did not account for the heart of the dinner rush.

A long line of cars idled in the drive-thru lane Monday evening, and parking was at such a premium that an Amy’s employee was advising customers to use the lot at an adjacent gas station.

“I kind of went crazy ordering stuff,” said Rebecca Schroder, who dined on a burger, chili-cheese fries and a milkshake.

She and her husband, Jon Couts, are both vegans, and as such the couple have limited options for dining out in Rohnert Park, where they live.

Eating a burrito bowl, Jeanette Lebell of Sebastopol said she was “thrilled” with the eatery’s debut. She said she’s been a vegetarian since 1972.

“It’s very exciting. I wish them every success,” Lebell said.

Customers included families with small children scarfing down organic French fries and waving half-eaten burgers. Rachel Berliner whisked from table to table, giving children coloring pencils and paper.

“You have to keep the little ones happy for a few minutes,” she said. “But you can come here with your family and whatever your dietary needs are, you can eat it.”

The most popular item, not surprisingly, is the flagship Amy Burger ($4.29 with cheese), with freshly made buns, onions, lettuce, cheddar cheese, pickles, meatless patties and Fred Jr.’s secret sauce. (Insider info: Fred Jr. and Fred Sr. are the R&D team for Amy’s Kitchen that helped to develop the Amy’s Drive Thru menu.)

The restaurant’s burrito ($4.69 and a great value) — beans, cheese, lettuce, tomatoes, sour cream and salsa wrapped in a whole wheat (or gluten-free) tortilla — was a surprise favorite.

“The first thing they want is the Amy Burger, but I think they’re surprised that the burrito was so good,” said Rachel Berliner.

Also on the BiteClub-approved menu: Vegetarian and vegan milkshakes (awesome, $2.99); chili fries ($2.99); broccoli mac and cheese (made in an oven, so it gets nice and crispy, $4.69 to $4.89); giant salads (the Super Salad made with quinoa, hummus, tofu and other goodies, $7.99 is the Berliner’s favorite menu item); vegan and vegetarian pizza ($5.89 to $6.50); and homemade lemonade and sodas.

“It’s fun to look at people’s faces,” said Rachel Berliner. “They’re so happy. This is food that even though it’s meatless, you don’t miss the meat.”

The (literally) million-dollar question: Where and when will they expand?

Andy Berliner confirmed that more Amy’s Drive Thru restaurants are in the works but he only expects one to two more in the next year or so, since much of Northern California has bans on new drive-thru restaurants (the Berliners can use existing fast-food locations).

The Berliners’ daughter, Amy, will be helping out at the restaurant while the couple take a month-long vacation in August.

“We think this is an opportunity for her on a smaller scale than Amy’s Kitchen,” said Rachel Berliner.

“This is a very historic day,” she added, clearing tables and wiping crumbs with a giant grin.

Staff Writer Derek Moore contributed to this story. You can reach Heather Irwin at 526-8544 or heather.irwin@pressdemocrat.com. Read her food and dining blog at BiteClubEats.com.

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