People are busier than ever today, and they want quality food, fast. And Proper Food wants to be the go-to (er, to-go) option for consumers who don’t want to settle for standing in a long line or grabbing a bite that’s been sitting in plastic for days.
The brand, which launched in San Francisco in 2014 and has expanded to 10 locations—including one in New York City that just opened this fall—offers grab-and-go fare that is made daily before being packaged and sold from refrigerated shelves. Co-CEO Dana Bloom remarks that constraint drives creativity in grab and go; that may explain how Proper Food has come up with menu items like Pulpo Ensalada with wild fresh octopus, a Portobello Sandwich, Salmon Teriyaki Hot Plate, Coconut Prawn & Kale Salad, and a Proper PB&J.
Bloom explains why high-quality grab-and-go food is perfect for today’s on-the-go society.
How would you describe Proper Food?
Proper Food was developed as an answer to the dilemma between eating well and eating fast. It’s a high-quality grab-and-go concept where all of the food is prepared from scratch each morning, then sold conveniently in our stores. It’s food you wouldn’t typically expect at grab and go.
How did Proper Food start?
Howard Bloom, my co-CEO and my husband, and I had always had a passion for food and for entrepreneurship. We were working as business executives in downtown San Francisco and found ourselves every lunch hour waiting in line for something that disappointed. Having lived in Europe—where there are more high-quality grab-and-go options—we felt like there shouldn’t be such a trade-off between fast and quality.
We were lucky early on to find our executive chef, Juan Muñoz, who came from a Michelin-starred kitchen, as well as fine dining, organic fast casual, and high-volume catering. He has a real passion for making fine-dining-quality food more accessible to more people, so he really helped to bring Proper Food to life and elevate the menu beyond what we initially thought was possible.
How does it work?
In our stores, we have refrigerated shelves. Everything’s in there. We have TurboChefs in our stores—a mix between a convection oven and microwave—that are able to heat things in a way that they stay crispy on the outside. Some of our locations are still not open for dinner. In New York, we are open for dinner. Sometimes we see people grab a couple things at lunch, and one’s for lunch and one’s for dinner.
One thing that differentiates Proper Food from other concepts is that we are very chef-driven—the antithesis of the Chipotle model where you’re designing your own meal.
How does menu development differ with grab and go?
We’re very thoughtful. Right from the start you have to think about—in terms of ingredients, cooking methods, everything you put together—what’s really going to hold up throughout a day. We’re also quite adventurous. We do things that you wouldn’t normally see in grab and go. It’s been a lot of experimentation over time, but at this point, Chef Muñoz has an incredibly good instinct for it.
What trends are you seeing in grab and go today?
Overall, people are more demanding than ever. Consumers are more food-savvy, both in recognizing great quality and in wanting ingredients that are non-GMO, organic, and grown sustainably. And there has never been a higher demand for convenience, both because of how hectic life has gotten and because of the Amazon effect and people used to getting things more readily.
What else sets Proper Food apart from the competition?
We care about our ingredients, and we care for our employees, our customers, and also our community. We are really proud of the fact that since we make our food each day, we have, to date, donated over a quarter of a million [leftover] meals to feed the homeless.
Our mission is to change the way people eat on the go. We’re very excited about giving people quality that’s beyond what they expect and doing it in a way that is sustainable. Our food is sustainably sourced and scratch-made. We make every aioli, every sauce, every jam, every peanut butter. We like to say ours is in a package, but it is very different from packaged food.