Former McDonald’s President Cooking Up Green Rival


A duo of former McDonald’s executives — former president and COO Mike Roberts and former communications head Mike Donahue — are planning to launch a healthy lifestyle brand comparable to Starbucks, Nike or Apple, but in the “fast casual” food services vertical. With backing from Chicago-based entrepreneur Steve Sidwell, the startup’s brand name, for now, honors Sidwell’s daughter Stephanie.

Plans are to open the first restaurant in 2011 and grow to 250 locations by 2016, but Donahue told Ad Age, which broke the story, that there’s “no tangible goals other than to do one really good location, get the taste profile right and the affordability right.”

McDonald’s, which is promoting healthy eating with spots such as its recent Yummivore campaign, above, likely isn’t too worried. And its former execs are looking to fill a niche, not pursuing global domination.[more]

“We want to take that approach, and whatever our name will be, create and fill an unmet need,” Donahue commented. “We think the biggest unmet customer need is great-tasting, delicious, affordable food that is also good for you. We want the whole feel and environment to be socially responsible; we want it to be a respite.”[more]

The proposed menu will include items such as: apple-cinnamon steel-cut oats and pita pockets for breakfast; smoked-chicken sweet-pea soup and pork-and-sweet-potato kabobs for lunch; and dinner entrees priced between $8 to $12.

For further distinction from competitors, “Stephanie’s” is considering roof herb gardens, grass parking lots, biodegradable cutlery, and fresh flowers on the tables. They may also sell their food products in Whole Foods and offer home delivery (by electric car, of course).

Under Roberts’ watch as McDonald’s U.S. President and COO, Paul Newman’s dressings, parfaits, and nutritional information in packaging were introduced. He also created the company’s first social-responsibility department. Both execs worked for the Golden Arches during the production and release of the Morgan Spurlock documentary Super Size Me, which resulted in obesity- and nutrition-related lawsuits.

“Our thought is combining a good team of people — that we’re still putting together — is what’s going to make the difference,” says Donahue. “The unique selling proposition is that we’ve done it on a scale before and now we’re going to it really methodically, and it’s got to be the taste and the customer experience first.”

While scores of casual dining chains, victims of the economy, were filing for bankruptcy last year, the top 100 chains were posting sales of $17.9 billion.

With McDonald’s under fire, particularly on the kiddie food front, who better to compete than former insiders?