Originally billed as “California comfort food,” Lemonade is tweaking its motto—if not its foundation—in anticipation of a much larger footprint. The Los Angeles–based brand now considers itself a destination for seasonal food and refreshments.
“To us, vegetables are comfort food, but to some people that could mean heavy food, or in Southern California that could be tacos,” says JoAnn Cianciulli, director of marketing and public relations for Lemonade. “We really want to celebrate the vegetable.”
Fine-dining chef Alan Jackson and his wife, Heidi, and business partner, Ian Olsen, established the concept in 2008 after they’d become frustrated with the lack of healthy, convenient items for their family. Chef Jackson still guides Lemonade’s culinary direction, and the brand brought in heavy-hitter Larry Kurzweil to serve as CEO and president late last year.
The move signals the brand’s readiness to grow. Kurzweil cut his teeth in foodservice, working at giants like Nestlé Foods, General Mills, and Darden. Most recently, he spearheaded the development of the Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Universal Studios Hollywood, where he served as president and chief operating officer.
Although Lemonade has made adjustments, the core operating model has remained constant. In addition to its namesake beverages, the menu features a mix of salads, sandwiches, protein entrées, and hot dishes, as well as a “marketplace” composed of about 15 veggie-forward items.
“What differentiates us is the marketplace,” Cianciulli says. “It’s also different than other fast casuals where you can choose your own adventure, because it’s almost like modern smorgasbord. … No two plates are the same.” She adds that the variety allows patrons to tailor their meals to any number of specialized diets—from vegan and vegetarian to gluten-free and protein-centric.
The marketplace options (think spiced heirloom carrots and black lentils, Tuscan kale, kumquats, and olive oil–poached albacore tuna) change eight times a year, or twice every season. Of course, California has an embarrassment of riches in terms of fresh, seasonal foods, Cianciulli says, which has facilitated in-state expansion.
This month marks a year since Lemonade opened its first Bay Area location; since then it’s ballooned to five locations with a couple more on the way. Add to that two outposts in San Diego and more than a dozen in Los Angeles, Pasadena, Irvine, and surrounding cities, and Lemonade is on track to saturate its home market quickly, with potential to expand beyond California afterward.