In 2015, CNN Money reported that Americans were working roughly 47 hours a week, which when given that the average work week is expected to be 40 hours, means that there’s a lot of overtime happening. The push towards overtime means that there’s less time for many things, cooking at home included in that list. Thus, if you’re wondering why cities like Washington, DC appear to be over-run with fast casual dining options offering everything from salads to rice bowls to noodle soups, burritos and more, that’s why. However, how big of a business DC’s ability to ever-so-briefly stop working and eat an impressive diversity of meals is becoming is what’s truly amazing.
Sweetgreen’s farm-to-table salads are delicious enough for the company to have existed for nearly a decade, raise $95 million in venture capital funding and spawn a seven-year old music festival. As well, not too far behind is five-year old Cava Grill, which, as an offshoot of the Cava Mezze restaurant has just followed Sweetgreen into New York City and has $60 million in VC funding to spend. As well, established fast-casual industry leader Chipotle launched Shophouse, a Southeast-Asian inspired sister concept, in the area three years ago.
Even iconic and veteran DC chef Jose Andres is in on the fun, his all-vegetarian Beefsteak entry now entering it’s second year in the fast-casual sweepstakes and already having national locations. Andres’ acclaim has attracted pop-star power to his brand as his funders include the likes of actress Gwyneth Paltrow. Upstarts like Philadelphia hoagie-inspired Taylor Gourmet, urban-chic “Chipotle for Pizza” & Pizza and sushi-as-burrito operation Buredo are making swift and impressive moves as well.
DC’s downtown park system turning into a lunch-time smorgasbord should be added to this mix as well. There’s now 240-plus food trucks in operation in the Nation’s Capital, offering everything from lobster roll sandwiches to barbecue items, grilled Halal-style meats and much more. Food trucks with brick-and-mortar locations like District Taco are notable, too. When the San Francisco Business Journal reveals that food-truck entrepreneurs are making a half-million dollars a year in earnings, there’s an impressive movement happening.
Fast casual is even interrupting DC’s traditional sit-down and not-so-fast restaurant boom. In Asia, ramen shops are the ultimate in fast dining, as the shops do an impressive level of in-and-out dining by business people needing incredibly swift dining options during weeks of work that oftentimes expand far past the new American 47 hour-per-week expectation. Now, especially in DC of late, traditionally fast ramen is becoming the height of experience-driven fast-casual eating. There’s roughly a dozen ramen-specific restaurants now in the DC Metropolitan area, a number that’s certain to grow.
When well-regarded publications like Zagat’s food guide says that “perhaps more than any [American] market, Washingtonians can’t get enough of fast-casual” and Eater notes that both “home-grown” and “enthusiastic entrants from elsewhere” are highlighting DC’s “nicer than fast-food, but not quite full-service” offerings, and can name over a dozen eateries not noted in this article, fast-casual has not just arrived in Washington, DC, moreover, it’s likely here to stay.