The Organic Coup, started by a former buyer for Costco, is the latest in the fried-chicken-sandwich craze, following in the footsteps of Fuku, David Chang’s take on the idea. But The Organic Coup is a new twist, because it claims to be the country’s first USDA organic-certified fast food restaurant.
The rules about organic certification for individual products are pretty specific. It’s not hard to figure out if a head of lettuce or a carton of eggs is organic, but establishments are much harder and more complex. It is possible for an entire restaurant to be certified USDA organic, but it is, frankly, a total mess, and one that’s a little bit more vague than individual items. (Even though there are thousands of certified organic goods, there are only a dozen or so certified organic restaurants in the entire country.)
Generally speaking, for a restaurant to advertise that it’s certified USDA organic, it must have certain qualities. (This Grist article does a good job of explaining what a pain in the butt this is.) At least 95 percent of all foods that come in the door have to be certified organic in their own right. Non-organic ingredients must be firmly separated, and can’t be prepared on the same surfaces, almost like the rules of Kosher. Cleaning products must all also be certified organic. Same thing with pest control. It’s a nightmare.
This stuff can be maddeningly unclear. This particular restaurant’s website says “All ingredients used at The Organic Coup are certified organic by CCOF,” that last acronym referring to a California-based accredited certifier of organics, California Certified Organic Farmers. We reached out to them to figure out what that actually means. “Our facility is certified,” replied The Organic Coup’s founder and CEO, Erica Welton, in an email. “So CCOF is looking at all food, beverages, pest, water filtration, cleaning products, all SOP’s. [I assume this means ‘standard operating procedures.’] They look at packaging and all graphics where we are explaining organic, describing our products and our branding whenever we are using then CCOF or USDA logo.” So, pretty complete!
The nice thing about having the entire restaurant certified organic is that, because it is such an utter pain to do, you know that every single product has at least some measure of regulation looking out for its provenance. And if it’s a success, you may not have to go out to Pleasanton to try it; Welton told Eater that they plan to open 25 more locations in the next 14 months.