O’Donalds: The Organic McDonald’s

The following post is a tribute to my nine year old son.

On Father’s Day this year he gave me his plan for a new “fast food” chain to replace McDonald’s.  Maybe living in the same house with a dad that has just a drop of sustainable food on his mind inspired him, but I think it mostly had to do with the creative force that is childhood.

Here is his plan in its entirety:

O’donalds – the organic Mcdonalds

The first O’donalds would open in Burlington, Vermont. It would use only local and organic food, and would not use high fructose corn syrup. The items on the menu would come and go depending on the season. It would only acept food from local farmers within 100 miles. It would only purchase cheese from companies that didn’t use RBGH. It would have soups and salads year round, and sandwiches too. It would sell soda’s that did not contain high fructose corn syrup. Organic drinks replace Coke’s, and Dr.Pepper. Organic root beer would be sold.

Our restaurants will open in cities, such as New York City and Boston. Food will not be shipped from across the country, or will it be frozen and then reheated.

Our key word is organic. We will have panini sandwiches that are made out of homemade bread and pesto. Our soups and pastas will be delicious. We will have chocolate-chip, oatmeal and peanut butter cookies for dessert.

Now lets look at the building design. It would be a medium-sized building, with glass windows and booths with neon green seats and white tables. A shiny chandiler would be on the ceiling. Also, you could eat outside!

The pesto would be a yummy lemon balm pesto, and O’Donalds would have a huge garden within a 100 mile radius. We would have sundaes with organic root beer, homemade vanilla ice cream with a bit of Vermont whipped cream. Yum.

Whether its my son or daughters (have three), or yours, we should be engaging them in discussions about where our food comes from, as well as how it is grown, processed and sold. When time (and patience) permits, sit down to find a yummy recipe to make for dinner, take them shopping and talk about making choices (e.g., conventional or organic produce), and work together preparing and cooking meals.

This has been the standard practice in our home since we had our first child over 13 years ago. Clearly, the things we talk about, the things we value, and the actions we take are sinking in.

Rob Smart is a food entrepreneur focusing on regional food systems and consumer retail experiences. He blogs on alternative food systems at Every Kitchen Table and Civil Eats (guest blogger), and micro-blogs on Twitter as Jambutter.

14 responses to “O’Donalds: The Organic McDonald’s

  1. Great post, and an important topic. Learning to cook and having a relationship to food starts, like all things, at home.

    As a business, this model is still being worked-out, but has been tried repeatedly since the mid-90s, mostly unsuccessfully …

    In the interest of your son’s market research, go here, when next you folks visit Oregon:


    Closer to home, but more of a fast casual format:




    • Jason: Bradley wanted me to say “hello.” Being the first comment on his first (guest) blog appearance, you now hold a special place in his mind. When we lived in Portland, OR, Burgerville was really the only “fast food” we would eat. What a great place with the right focus and experience to serve as a role model for others to emulate. As for O’Naturals, other than what I’ve read about, including its direct connection with Gary Hirschberg (Stonyfield Yogurt), I have never eating at one. Sounds like a great concept and I really hope it is successful.

  2. asgoodandbetter

    This is great to see. I too have a child (11 year old daughter) who is becoming aware of all the things there are in the world to be outraged about. She came home from school recently saying, “School made me MAD today. I learned about how they test on animals in labs and kill them.”

    With a little guidance, we steered her toward some animal rights resources and she got involved, raising $170 and participating in the Humane Society’s dog walk in Burlington.

    Let’s all take responsibility not only for listening to our kids, but empowering them to make a difference – it’s going to be more important than it’s ever been as we tackle the tough challenges of tomorrow.

    Best of luck to your son in his business endeavor – sounds like a chip off the old block! (Did he present it to you on a whiteboard?;)


    • Nathan: Thanks for the great comment, including your daughter’s great example. I especially liked the whiteboard reference. Old habits die hard, but lucky for him we don’t have one in the house. 🙂

  3. Rob, great post and inspirational thinking on the part of your 9 year old. Digging into our food system and learning about where our food comes from has affected our whole family too. I love that my 11yo asks if a food is in season or checks to see if a jam has HFCS listed on the label; and my 14yo helped me plant my veggie garden and is picking blueberries as a summer job. It’s an education I missed out on due to the era of ‘convenience’ and I’m passing on the info as I learn it too.

    Maybe you had a chance to visit Burgerville when you lived here once before…it’s the closest match that I can think of also, as Jason has mentioned. No panini sandwiches (yet!), but I do believe they have created something with pesto!

  4. Rob, wonder if you are familiar with Local Burger in Lawrence, Kansas. Never eaten there but found it on the net the other day. Thought menu looked impressive, all locally sourced and reasonably priced. I think name/concept could be franchised especially as local food systems develop where franchisee could have reasonable expectation of sourcing locally.

  5. Hi Rob — what a great post! It was inspiring and exciting to hear the ideas of your very creative, entrepreneurial son. It brings me a lot of joy to know that 9-year olds today are actually talking about such topics as food systems and sustainability.

    And thank you Jason for adding the link for O’Naturals. I’m the Director of Marketing & Sustainability for the all-natural and organic “fast food” restaurant chain. However, we’re definitely not your typical fast food restaurant. Although you can take our food to go, our comfy dining room, free wifi, great kid’s play area and organic beer & wine definitely make our stores a great place to eat in as well.

    All of our food is all-natural or organic (and a lot of it comes from local sources) and we have a strict list of ingredients that cannot be in any of the food we serve (such as high fructose corn syrup, anything artificial, trans fats, etc). We serve sandwiches on our signature organic flatbread, salads, soups, noodle dishes, panini and kid’s meals. We were also the first restaurant in the state of Maine (where we are based out of) to be certified as an “Environmental Leader” because of our green business practices (e.g. using green cleaners, composting our food scraps, recycling everything possible, using sustainable and recycled building materials, etc.). You can learn more about our story and mission (and view our menu) at http://www.onaturals.com.

    And if you’re ever in Maine (or Boston, for that matter), you should definitely bring your son to one of our stores so that he can see some of his ideas actually happening. We don’t have the neon green seats or white tables, but everything else is pretty much there!

    Lora Winslow
    Director of Marketing & Sustainability | O’Naturals

  6. Lora: Thanks so much for letting us all know more about O’Naturals. My son will appreciate much of what you are already doing, although he might ask you to consider changing the decor.

    All: There is a great slide show of the Top 10 Organic Fast Food chains on the Mother Nature Network. The list includes Burgerville and O’Naturals, both mentioned in people’s comments.


    Maybe someday O’Donald’s will make such a list. 🙂

  7. Hi Rob,

    You have one smart kid! Congratulations on raising him to be so aware.

    I’ve been boring my 11-year-old and 14-year-old kids with food talk for the last year or so. They have suffered through a month-long Eat Local Challenge and wish I would buy Doritos a lot more often, but I think they are beginning to understand the reasons behind my obsession. We are planning to rent Super Size me and then Fathead for two different views on food, both of which (as I understand it without having seen them yet) criticize the American diet, but with markedly different conclusions. This should introduce them to the vastly conflicting expert opinions on nutrition. We will be along the first readers of Michael Pollan’s kid’s version of The Omnivore’s Dilemma when it comes out. I was droning on about Good Calories, Bad Calories (which I am reading now – mild-blowing book) today and my daughter said, “So, we can buy whole milk all the time then?” Well, maybe. I just wish she would drink the raw milk we get, but it apparently tastes “funny”.

    • Annika: Thank you for commenting on my son’s blog post. He has really enjoyed reading people’s comments. It sounds like your kids are experiencing many of the same “parental wisdom” things that mine are, and although they may not realize it now, these invaluable lessons will serve them well in the future. Cheers to you and your family!

  8. Rob. You have one switched on kid. When ideas like this come from the mouths of babes, it gives hope for a future brighter than today. I have re-posted your blog onto ooooby with a slight tweak to the title. Hope you don’t mind. http://ooooby.ning.com/profiles/blogs/oodonalds-1

  9. Rob,
    there’s a Tampa, FL-based chain called Evo’s that is conceived along the lines of your son’s brainstorm.

  10. Rob,
    Great post! I can’t wait to sit at the neon green booth and sip my organic root beer while eating my organic panini.

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