Evolution Fast Food: The drive-thru vegan restaurant we can't wait to try

California-based Evolution Fast Food is one of the original innovators of vegan fast food dining. The establishment opened in 2004 under the name Kung Food, according to the company's founder Mitch Wallis, and later rebranded to Nature's Express and, finally, Evolution Fast Food. Wallis explained in an introductory video that he landed on the name because of the way his restaurant helps to grow the fast food space (an evolution, if you will!).

Located in the Hillcrest neighborhood of San Diego, an urban area known as the center of the city's LGBTQ+ community, Evolution sits among an array of other bars and restaurants in a mix of old and new as the neighborhood itself evolved over the years.

Evolution Fast Food seeks to deliver a healthy vegan menu to its customers using fresh, local ingredients made from scratch, while also promoting general wellness and positivity. While vegan restaurants have certainly seen an uptick in recent years, Evolution is unique in its mission to create a classic burgers and fries joint through the lens of a cleaner, sustainable methodology.

Evolution Fast Food was the first vegan drive-thru restaurant in the world

The concept of a drive-thru is not new, of course, but Evolution Fast Food changed the game. According to San Diego Magazine, Evolution was the first vegan drive-thru restaurant in the world. And even though as a society we're generally aware of the health concerns associated with a certain kind of fast food diet, the industry as a whole has hardly shrunk. There are nearly 200,000 fast food restaurants in the United States alone. And the busy, on-the-go behavior prevalent throughout much of America doesn't always allow for a true sit-down meal. Thankfully for our health, though, some restaurants have found a way to "healthify" meals without sacrificing speed.

At Evolution Fast Food, customers can expect drive-thru access for the complete menu, which features an array of vegan burgers, wraps, sandwiches, tacos, burritos, "chicken" tenders, chili, soups, hot dogs, and salads. Oh, and don't forget to order a seasonal dessert. This fast food joint has surely changed the way new businesses think about health and convenience, opening the door for other vegan fast food opportunities.

Evolution Fast Food founder Mitch Wallis founded another vegan fast food chain

In 2016, Evolution Fast Food founder Mitch Wallis helped launch Plant Power Fast Food (also located San Diego) as the restaurant's CEO with Zach Vouga, who was previously an employee at Evolution Fast Food, according to Eater. The idea with Plant Power was to take the lead from what Evolution built and streamline everything, thus creating a vegan restaurant with a traditional fast food experience and a more approachable menu. Think of it as a vegan version of In-N-Out Burger.

Right now, Evolution Fast Food still operates out of its single, original location, but Plant Power offered the opportunity to expand and build a brand that has the potential to grow nationally. As of this writing, there are seven locations throughout California in San Diego, Encinitas, Redlands, Long Beach, Riverside, and Fountain Valley.

"Giving birth to this new brand has really been a team effort," Wallis told Eater in 2016. "The Plant Power Fast Food team is made up of the three partners, a family of supportive investors and a group of wonderful enthusiastic employees. We know that so many people have been waiting for healthier options for traditional fast food and we're really excited to bring something new to the table." The team hopes to one day become a national fast food chain

Evolution Fast Food is eco-friendly down to even the packaging

In sticking with the ideas of sustainability, both Evolution Fast Food and Plant Power Fast Food serve their food in 100% biodegradable materials. The companies worked with San Diego's Hubbell & Hubbell Architects, a company that focuses on green building design and sustainability in materials.

As a result, the tables inside the restaurants are made of bamboo and use recycled aluminum. No plastic is used for disposable straws, silverware, or serving containers. Everything — even containers that look remarkably similar to plastic — is made from renewable plant-based sources like sugar cane, corn, potatoes or wheat, which means that most items don't need to be recycled, since everything is 100 percent compostable.

Going the eco-friendly route is definitely more expensive than settling on plastic. Combine that with the focus on utilizing only local, natural ingredients in menu items, and the overhead challenges start to add up. But for founder Mitch Wallis and Evolution Fast Food as a whole, the idea is to create such a product demand that a business model built on sustainability can remain, well, sustainable. Plus, if it's better for the environment anyway, it already feels like a real win-win.

Expect a different kind of fast food experience at Evolution Fast Food

We've all had a nightmare fast food experience. Think long drive-thru lines where the mix of car exhaust and deep fryers sting the nostrils. Hordes of children screaming in the middle of a fast food playground birthday party. Stray fries and ketchup smears on the tables. That's not to say there's anything wrong or even necessarily unsanitary with most fast food restaurants, of course. It's just not always an ideal eating situation.

Evolution Fast Food tries to change that stigma. If you're skipping the drive-thru in favor of dining in, you can enjoy a more relaxing environment more suited to the west coast lifestyle Evolution offers. The outdoor patio and dining area is fully covered, pet-friendly, and offers plenty of comfortable seating. You'll find a full array of tropical plants and flowers that match the clean, healthy, environmentally-conscious branding. After all, why even dine in the California sun if you don't get the opportunity to enjoy it, right?

Evolution Fast Food offers premium vegan catering

Looking for delicious vegan options for your next business meeting, event, or small party? Despite the "Fast Food" part of its name, Evolution Fast Food also caters. As of this writing, the restaurant offers a variation of its normal menu, including trays of vegan chicken tenders, build-your-own sandwiches, salads, wraps, and even single-portion dessert trays of cookies, cheesecakes, and brownies. Additionally, Evolution can also make custom cakes for your next vegan birthday celebration.

Nevertheless, Evolution Fast Food still sees itself primarily as a classic burger joint — with a vegan twist. "We're a burger place. So we're burger and fries," Wallis explained in an intro video about the company. "We have a big variety of gourmet veggie burgers and our famous sweet potato French fries." Wallis continued, saying, "Everything we make is from scratch, even our ketchup."

As with all of Evolution's menu items, catered meals do not contain any animal ingredients, refined sweeteners, high-fructose corn syrup, hydrogenated oils, or artificial additives.

Evolution Fast Food was involved in a legal battle against Starbucks

In 2011, Starbucks Corp. acquired Evolution Fresh, a brand originally named Juice Harvest that also offers vegan and vegetarian food and juice options, according to Mandour & Associates. Starbucks started opening restaurants in Washington state using the Evolution Fresh name, operating in direct competition with Evolution Fast Food, with an arguably similar name and logo. Additionally, Starbucks expanded the Evolution Fresh line with juice factories throughout California.

Evolution Fast Food founder Mitch Wallis sued Starbucks and the Evolution Fresh subsidiary for unauthorized use of its trademarked name. He argued that the then-newly unveiled Starbucks "Evolution" logo was substantially similar to the existing Evolution Fast Food branding.

However, the timelines are a little blurry. Wallis first began the rebranding process from Nature's Express to Evolution Fast Food in 2009, but the actual name wasn't used until April 20, 2010, and was eventually registered a year later as a federal trademark for café and restaurant services. Juice Harvest Corp. claims the trademark for "Juice Evolution" was obtained in 1998, eventually shortening it to the one word "Evolution," also trademarked in 2010. The case was later dismissed and settled out of court.

Evolution Fast Food kickstarted a vegan fast food movement

With roots dating back to 2004, Evolution Fast Food is very much at the root of the health-conscious, quick dine-in experience that's grown so much in the last decade. Restaurant concepts like Salad and Go, Amy's Drive Thru, Freshii, Dig, and more have popped up, making vegan organic, often healthy, and locally sourced meals not only more commonplace, but with the same convenience model of fast food restaurants.

Where vegan choices, let alone entire restaurants, used to be outliers in the dining world, they are now more routine. Even more traditional fast food restaurants are offering more vegan and vegetarian-friendly options. These days, you can find an Impossible Whopper at Burger King or a Black Bean Crunchwrap Supreme at Taco Bell.

"We wanted to change the conversation about vegan food. It's just another type of cuisine," Zach Vouga told San Diego Magazine of his and Wallis' approach to Plant Power Fast Food and vegan food in general. "It's not cultish. And that's the great thing about Plant Power. A few of our customers don't even realize we're vegan until the second or third time they eat there." The same is undoubtedly true for Evolution Fast Food, as well.