Amy's hopes to open drive-thru in Corte Madera

Corte Madera's ban on drive-thru was no match for Amy's veggieburger. 

Town planners on Tuesday night, gave the popular food-maker the green light to build a second vegetarian restaurant, on Paradise Drive alongside Highway 101.

Amy's Drive Thru already has one location in Rohnert Park, which opened almost three years ago.
"First and foremost, my family is a fan, and we hope you approve it," said one of several speakers during the public comment portion of a Planning Commission hearing. 

The proposal has been under review and revision since last summer, and amid staff presentations on traffic, parking, and pedestrians, the public waited to speak, every chair filled in the hearing room.  
"It's the only restaurant where I can actually eat at without having to worry about getting sick," said Illeana Brown of Mill Valley, explaining how she travels to Sonoma County on weekends expressly to eat at Amy's. 

"It's really hard to find good vegetarian food around here, especially going out, " 13-year-old Katie Shell told the commissioners, "and that's because lots of places don't have any vegetarian entrees on the menu."  

Amy's was already popular for its frozen and packaged organic entrees, when customers convinced the founders to open a casual restaurant. 

"We started and we've been surprised by how successful and well-received it is," said co-founder Andy Berliner, " we serve burgers, lemonade, burritos, pizza...." 

The menu features organic and vegetarian ingredients, with vegan options, as well as gluten, GMO and dairy free food and beverages. 

The company is based in Petaluma, and named after the couple's daughter Amy, who was an infant when they started it in the late 80's. 

"We've gotten a lot of letters and emails from all over the country asking us to put a drive-thru in their town," said co-founder Rachel Berliner, addressing the planners alongside her husband.

Before they even built in Rohnert Park, the Berliners said they had their eye on the old Denny's property on Paradise Drive. 

They envision a 140 seat restaurant, with roomy indoor and outdoor dining and bicycle parking. 
The dilapidated Denny's, vacant for several years, would be torn down. 

Unlike locations where a drive-thru might cause congestion, the narrow piece of land seemed suited to accommodate a long line of cars. 

Even though they knew Corte Madera frowned on drive-thru, the Berliners considered the feature "essential" to their concept.  

"It's when someone has four kids in the car, and one kids asleep, plus a dog, and they don't want to get out," Rachel Berliner told KTVU, "so they can quickly go through, coming home from work or sports, and it's very beneficial."  

A company consultant noted Amy's meatless and organic menu is gentler on the environment to produce, and mitigates whatever pollution might be caused by vehicles idling in a drive-thru. 

"What we found is that an Amy's meal has half the greenhouse gas emissions of a traditional restaurant meal," he told the five-member panel. 

The restaurant aesthetic is eco-friendly: with solar energy, a living vegetative roof, reclaimed wood, and all compostable food packaging.  

Rohnert Park's design also includes a water-tower that collects rainwater for the drought-resistant landscaping. 

The water-tower did not make the cut in Corte Madera, but for the most part, the two restaurants will be the same, and fans hope it will rejuvenate an under-used section of Paradise Drive.   

"This is a miracle," said one of the final speakers in support. "It's a blighted beat-up old Dennys, so this will be wonderful."

The full Town Council will vote on the project on June 4. 

Amy's hopes to open its doors in Corte Madera in about a year. 

The action taken by planners does not repeal the drive-thru ban, but establishes criteria for exceptions to be made, as in this case.