Why are there no lo-carb fast food joints?

You’d think someone would have cashed in on the lo-carb craze by opening a strictly lo-carb fast food restaurant. I’ve noticed many of the fast food goliaths have gone to adding some lo-carb items to their menu but they still mainly cater in highly processed foods. Why hasn’t anyone developed a full lo-carb menu for a fast food venture. Surely there must be a demand for it.

Also, is there any way to make a palatable food resembling a sandwich or wrap using only lo-carb ingredients?

To answer your second question, just substitute a low-carb tortilla (available in just about any supermarket these days) for a regular tortilla or bun. The rest of the ingredients — meats, hard cheeses, mayonnaise, oil, most vegetables — are already low carb or no carb.

The same reason there aren’t any stores selling nothing but peanut butter. There’s just not enough of a market share to make it viable. Unbiased studies, as reported here, put the percentage of the US population on the Atkins diet at around 3% to 6%.

To answer your firs question, not everybody is on Atkins, although it may seem that way. Most people going to fast food restaurants are buying for more than themself. Such a consumer would prefer a restaurant where their non-Atkins companions can find the high carb items they love (french fries, baked potatoes, buns and rolls), while the Atkins person sticks to the low carb menu items. This makes everybody happy.

No, there probably isn’t much of a demand. It seems like everyone and his dog is low carbing, but the majority of people still want regular food. Also, low carb diets are temporary. People frequently start and then fall off the wagon after a while. Having one or two options is probably about as much as any restaurant needs.

It would seem that general health concerns were eating into the profits, which explains why most fast food places have ponied up with some lighter offerings. But, the line at Inn-n-Out Burger is still around the block in this neighborhood.

As for your second question, a couple of place around here–Rubio’s and Pick-up-Stix (a Chinese, semi-fast joint) have been offering lettuce wraps, which are sort of like a taco or an egg roll with an iceberg letttuce leave replacing the tortilla/wrapper. Interestingly, both of these places emphasize fresh ingredients more than most fast food restaurants, and the dishes represent rearrangements of ingredients they probably already have around.

Atkins is not the only low-carb diet, and the percentage of people who are just generically “cutting carbs” is significantly higher. I imagine that most investors are hesitant to put money into a fad (It’s been around for decades, but in minor numbers, and may not be a major trand in 2-3 years)

Frankly, I’ve seen Atkins and low carb diets work very well for many people, including myself [1], and I don’t see the gloom-and-doom in the medical literature that many people see. For healthy individuals, the objections seem to mostly be “common sense” (which is often wrong), not backed up by scientific studies. If anything, the recent studies have been going against many of my colleagues lofty proclamations.

However, I can’t think of a faster way to make a low carb diet unhealthy than to start a low-carb fast-food chain. You can already follow a low carb diet at fast food joints and restaurants today – but you have to know what you’re doing. The fast food mentality (blind uninformed sensual gratification, often not even a response to genuine hunger) would benefit no one, and lead to the least healthy, “highest general appeal” low-carb choices. “Health food” joints are a good example: some remained dedicated and fairly limited in scope. Most that grew did it by tacking on hidden fats, sugars and other ingredients that weren’t very healthy. I’ve seen many a “1000 calorie, 30 fat grams” salads in the past 20 years – the first was at a Sooper Salad (you can bet that those salad didn’t have their numbers on the window posters out front, but they sure sold well)

[1]I personally ate a far healther, more moderate diet on Atkins than I ever thought I could tolerate. If you read my daily diet log, you probably wouldn’t have noticed it was low carb. I just ended up eating very small meals (e.g. 4 oz of salmon filet or a modest salad would keep me happy for 5-6 hours) The effect has persisted. Even years later, I eat a fraction of the food I once ate, and since I don’t feel hungry or think about food as much, it’s like a weight has been lifted from me spiritually, as well (not that I was ever seriously obese) I was in a position to monitor various biochemical values much more closely than a layman, and nothing gave me a moment’s concern. In fact, all my “risk factor” values, already normal, improved significantly.

Actually, there are two peanut butter stores in the Twin Cities. No kidding.

I think the reason there are no no-carb fast food joints is that no one wants to bet heavily on this anti-carb being more than a fad.

And at least one here in NYC: www.ilovepeanutbutter.com/sandwich_shop.cfm

Bingo. Also, don’t forget that the existing fast food companies are (mostly) enormous - with long term supply contracts, huge bureaucracies, etc. Just developing a new product and testing it takes months, let alone rolling it out for the whole country. As for new market entrants, well, there might be some, but it took decades for McDonalds and Taco Bell to get where they are today.

The closest you’ll see for a while, I bet, are low-carb menu items like salads, which were already in development for other reasons but are good for Atkins and their ilk, too.

Yup, and there are peanut butter restaurants in NYC. Here’s one in Greeenwich village: http://www.ilovepeanutbutter.com/

In addition to the possibility of the popularity of low-carb diets receding, there is no way to compete with the existing fast food restaurants (and other places) leveraging their existing locations and clientele with low carb offerings. After all, what is the classic fast food? A burger. How much investment would it take an office cafeteria to offer a low carb grilled steak lunch? A few $15 Foreman grills from Amazon.com? A ribbed cast iron skillet? (Both do a more credible grill steak than you might expect)

Each of the main chains has some infrastructure investment that carves a turf for it. McDonalds flourished in a sea of diners precisely because it was FAST. They had developed procedures and equipment that let them promise a burger and a consistent meal, quickly at any time of day (rther than just the lunch rush). Burger King grew a bit later, on the back of its flame grill. KFC’s pressure fryer moved fried chicken from a Sunday dinner specialty that took restaurants a long time to cook, to a fast food. Dave Thomas took over four failing KFCs from the Colonel, and turned them around with McDonald-like methods, and was then inspired to start a chain with more variety, using tools the other fast food giants weren’t using (.e.g. the McD kitchen couldn’t crank out steamed broccoli, baked potatoes or chili). Domino’s Pizza rose above the omnipresent local pizzarias on the back of its delivery service. Etc.

There are a few big chains that have succeeded on a cuisine or recipe alone. More often the gimmick that boosted them over their competitors was a bit of hardware their competitors didn’t have, rather than the recipe they publicly touted.

I don’t see a killer tech for low carb, but maybe a vacuum over would coax a decent bread out of soy flour, and I’ll be kicking myself in ten years.

Sorry Oxymoron…

Gah. Next time I won’t leave my post hanging on the screen when dinner’s ready

Lo-fat and lo-cal have been popular for many years, but there aren’t many fast food places geared to that either. Some salad bars, but that’s about it.

Just outside Atlanta, there is a “Lo-carb Superstore”. I would assume that if this takes off, and the Fad does stay for some time, the owners of the store (being so brave as to specilize already in lo-carbs) might in fact have a resturant, or at least pre-made meals.

Website for those intrested;

Maybe it’s because they know that some of these Atkins sheeple who are cramming themselves with huge amounts of fats and cholesterol will be looking for someone to sue very shortly after they have their first heart attack?

Plus, the larger chains are already offering low-carb food items. Subway has a number of “carb-conscious items”, same with Arby’s, and I’m sure many other places do too. Starting a fast-food joint with ONLY low-carb items would give you an unnecessarily small demographic.

Damn it, and now I see that you acknowledged this in the OP. I skimmed through all the posts to see if anyone mentioned this, except for the OP. Nevermind.

Okay, so far the menu for ‘Kez’s Quick and Tasty Lo-carboria’ consists of:

  • Tortilla with meat, veggies and cheese or any such combination

  • Whole wheat peanut butter and banana sandwiches

  • Oriental ‘lettuce wraps’

That’s a start and most if not all of the items sound fairly tasty. The meat served could be fresh roast beef and chicken instead of the processed crap. How bout rotisserie chicken? Any other suggestions are welcome.

I think the closest national chain you’ll find is Subway. They have low-carb wraps, low-carb ranch dressing, low-carb salads, and now low-carb cookies. Everything is officially sponsored by Atkins. I currently work at one and we’re expected to be a low-carb Nazi (NO you can’t more than 3 olives or it won’t be Atkins way!). They are really trying hard to be the place to go for people looking for Atkins or low-carb fast food.

I think it probably is indeed because of the fad thing and the low market share thing.

However I would like to think that it is because that’s not what fast food restaurant are for. IMO they are for occasionally stuffing your face with lots of fat and carbs in a most unhealthy, unslimming, irresponsible but quite enjoyable manner.

Mmmm, carbs.


An article in today’s National Post states:
“Fat Driven Liver Disease Growing”

The article goes on to say that Mayo Clinic researchers have found that an over-accumulation of free fatty acids triggers a protein reaction that kills liver cells. NAFLD or Non-Alcoholic Fatty Liver Disease can lead to impaired functioning. One pediatric physician says the mean age in her clinic of children with symptoms of liver disease is 12. She says NAFLD is surpassing Hep C in terms of potential damge to the liver. The article states that 1 in 7 adults in Canada is obese and 75% of those have excess liver fat. 23% of these are in danger of developing serious liver damage.
I feel that the fan base for low carb eating is on the rise and sooner or later someone will realize the potential for profit. Atkins is at the extreme end and in my opinion is unjustly profiting on the use of the name. There must be lower cost alternative products out there.

If someone could come up with a lo-carb Krispy Kreme-type doughnut, that’d be quite lucrative, I’d think. At least, if it doesn’t taste like crap.
(runs to the kitchen and starts test baking)