The number of certified organic restaurants is growing with the planned launch this month of Nic’s Organic Fast Food near Chicago.
“People have the misconception that organic is more expensive or less tasty. We wanted to break the mold and create an organic concept that would be approachable for every demographic,” said co-founder Benjamin Brittsan.
The quick-service concept, scheduled to open later in February, in Rolling Meadows, Ill., offers a typical menu of burgers, fries and sodas. There’s even a drive-thru and value meals.
But unlike most quick-service restaurants, Nic’s uses ingredients that are organic and certified by Quality Assurance International, or QAI, one of about 48 agencies in the U.S. accredited by the U.S. Department of Agriculture to verify that organic standards are met.
Benjamin Brittsan, who founded the concept with his wife Nicolette, said QAI is the largest and most stringent certifying agency.
“There are many agencies, and some are more reputable than others,” he said. “We decided to go with [QAI] because we wanted to make sure customers knew exactly what they were buying.”
As a result, Nic’s can use the USDA certified organic seal. The restaurant also says that meats come from animals raised humanely, without the use of antibiotics; ingredients have not been genetically modified; and there are no artificial flavors or colors.
“We created this concept because we felt there was a void. We wanted to make organic food accessible,” Brittsan said. “People are becoming more conscious of what they’re putting into their bodies.”
At breakfast, Nic’s offers dishes like organic scrambled eggs with organic American cheese and an organic sausage patty on a warm, buttered organic bun.
The Organic BigNic Bacon Burger features two grass-fed beef patties, American cheese, applewood-smoked bacon, lettuce, tomato, onion and pickles on a toasted bun — with each ingredient organic, down to the mayonnaise and mustard. Even the canola oil used to fry the chicken-breast tenders is organic.
Youngsters can choose from a hamburger, cheeseburger, veggie burger or nuggets with fries and applesauce in the kid’s meal.
Sodas are from Idaho-based Tractor Sodas, and the restaurant also serves responsibly sourced Allegro Coffee.
Prices will fall somewhere in between comparable non-organic quick-service competitors and more expensive fast-casual players, like Five Guys and Shake Shack. A combo meal at Nic’s, including a double cheeseburger, medium drink and fries, will be priced around $8.25.
The Brittsans are working on a second location for Nic’s in Illinois, and they plan to bring the brand next to California and Washington.
Brittsan hopes to open about 50 restaurants over the next three years, mostly company owned, with the help of an unnamed angel investor. The couple plans to franchise within about two years.
Both Brittsan and his wife come from the fine-dining world. They met at Le Cordon Bleu culinary school in Chicago. He previously owned a restaurant in Highland Park called Benjamin Tapas, which has closed.
They developed the menu for Nic’s together in part because it’s they way they choose to eat. Nicolette also designed the restaurant and the logo.
Many other restaurants offer organic ingredients, but few take on as comprehensive a promise of 100-percent organic certification, Brittsan noted.
The Organic Coup, an all-organic quick-service chicken concept, has been growing out of Pleasanton, Calif., for example. And on the East Coast, the organic Grown chain has opened its fourth location at a Walmart in Florida.
Brittsan said going all organic is incredibly complicated. It took eight months to achieve certification, he noted.
But the demand is growing for organic food that is verifiable, he said.
“Our goal is to grow and have the purchasing power to help these organic farmers get on a better path,” he said. “Our customers want organic food to be more accessible.”
Correction: Feb. 14, 2017 An earlier version misstated the location of Nic's planned second location. It is in Illinois.
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All photos courtesy of Nic's Organic