We reported Santa Monica's Native Foods opening yesterday, with a brief report on the current ownership and chef situation at the end. Grubstreet picked up on the questions we raised and brought forward some additional light on the absence of Chef Tanya Petrovna in recent company operations. Petrovna, the heart and soul of the concept that began in Palm Springs in 1994, still appears on the Native Foods website as Founder, Executive Chef, and Co-Owner.
Based on a piece in the Chicago Tribune last August, Andrea McGinty and her husband Daniel Dolan acquired the company two years ago and moved the company's headquarters to Chicago. They also hired the former head of Wolfgang Puck Casual Dining division's Ron Biskin, who now serves as the President of Native Foods. It's no doubt a move toward an expansive national operation. McGinty, founder of It's Just Lunch, a "world re-nown dating service," discovered Native Foods on a vacation to Palm Springs ten years ago. From the looks of it, founder and chef Tanya Petrovna has been mostly bought out, with brief mentions in company newsletters to its fans.
With 12 operating locations as of this week (the original Palm Springs location is closed for "renovation/expansion until early Fall" according to the website) across Southern California and mostly the Chicago, the company is looking to rapidly expand locations across the United States.
The Denver Post reported on the opening of the Boulder location just last month, commenting on the stereotypical service staff (women in peasant dress; white men with dreadlocks) and the faux-meat comfort food offerings, such as the Reuben. However, a VegSource video (replete with corny folk music) commented on the company's plans to open on the East Coast. Local partner of the Boulder location, Seth Bent notes Boulder's foodie cred while Chef Kendall Huff gets a quick interview while being listed as the Executive Chef of Native Foods, not Tanya Petrovna. Andrea McGinty gets behind camera and goes through a map mural at the restaurant stating that they'll be on the East Coast soon. The Tribune article states their goal is 50 locations this year, though it seems unlikely at the halfway point of this year.
With this kind of growth, solid concept, and receptiveness from niche cities such as Portland and Boulder, one wonders how soon it'll be until Native Foods still start to nip at the heels of Fast Casual concepts such as Chipotle, Buffalo Wild Wings, or Five Guys. The only related concept that's spreading from California to the rest of the country is Cafe Gratitude, a quirky raw vegan restaurant chain that recently opened a location in Kansas City despite a number of their East Bay locations closing because of legal issues.
The accelerated growth of Native Foods through Southern California, Portland, and the Midwest shows consumers' willingness to delve into Vegan cuisine despite not adhering to the diet. In fact, the company states that perhaps 75% of customers don't eat exclusively vegan. As the company grows, it seems that Tanya Petrovna has pursued her interests in animal rights outside of the company, with almost all of her recent tweets related to that subject. The last mention of her involvement with Native Foods came in October 2011, where she tweeted: "Free dessert @nativefoodscafe today and tomorrow if you come in dressed as a veg or animal! Boooooo haaa haaaaa! Come on down sweeties!"