Eating Green: On the Fly Karts and Kafes

By: Kate Nerenberg

Gabe Klein prefers the title “top dood” (his spelling) to CEO. His company, Home Slice, and its subsidiary, On the Fly, recently debuted two SmartKarts—zero-emission battery-powered vehicles—and two stationary SmartKafes, all of which serve environmentally friendly and healthy fast food. He and cofounders Christopher Lynch (a.k.a chief operating dood) and Michel Heitstuman (head financial dood) partnered with Global Electric Motorcars to design their fleet of Karts. But they’re paying close attention to the food, too, by bringing on Jason Lichman, a former sous chef at the Inn at Little Washington, as executive chef.

On the Fly’s Web site defines “ecovending,” its trademarked term, as a verb: “To vend with social responsibility. To provide delicious and high quality foods to consumers while loving the environment.” Ecovending as a noun is “the smart thing to do.”

The Doods want the SmartKarts to have an impact on the environment beyond their fuel-saving properties. To that end, takeout bags are made from cornstarch, food is packaged in bamboo containers, and cutlery is made from potatoes. The company is committed to sourcing food locally, which translates to less fuel expenditure and a smaller carbon footprint.

The fleet will also sell food from small local businesses such as PollyStyle cookies, LuLu’s carrot cakes, Route 11 potato chips, and Rocklands Barbeque. Each Kart has its own name and culinary theme. In DC’s Penn Quarter, the “Diego” Kart sells $2 soft tacos—such as the fiery chicken estofado paired with apples and cinnamon—and empanadas from Julia’s Empanadas. Around the corner, “Smokin’ Joe” features Rocklands chicken and pork sandwiches for $5.50 along with baked beans and macaroni and cheese.

Meals at the Farragut North and Capitol Hill SmartKafes include a hearty niçoise salad with grilled salmon, a spicy sweet-potato-and-peanut soup, and breakfast options such as steel-cut oatmeal and $4.99 breakfast burritos. The Farragut North SmartKafe, partnering with the new Results Gym location, offers power drinks and a energy-packed trail mix of raisins, peanuts, pineapple, and rolled dates. Next month, expect to see more for early risers: Each Kart and Kafe will offer Chesapeake Bay Roasting Company coffee and scones from Alexandria’s Buzz bakery.

Sometimes, though, it isn’t easy being green. The Doods have had trouble tracking down a supplier that sells recycled products in the sizes they want. They have walked away from purveyors that don’t offer free-range chicken. And those recycled products and free-range chicken come with a price. According to Klein, the takeout containers can cost two to three times the price of a conventional plastic one.

Even so, the owners hope to set up at least 18 SmartKarts in 2008 and three SmartKafes near transportation hubs and other Results locations. They also plan to set up shop at some farmers markets and at special events such as film festivals.

“We are not going to change the world,” says Klein. “But we can set an example. We want to educate people and hope they recognize that we are making an effort.”

SmartKarts: Diego, southwest corner of Eighth and H sts., NW. Smokin’ Joe, northwest corner of Seventh and F sts., NW. Both Karts are open Monday through Friday 11 AM to 3 PM; starting March 15, they’ll be open Monday through Saturday 7 to 7.

SmartKafes: Farragut Kafe, Farragut North Metro station, Connecticut Ave. and L St., NW (below Results Gym), Monday through Friday 6:30 AM to 9 PM, Saturday 9 to 5. Capitol Hill Kafe, 315 G St., SE (inside Results Gym), Monday through Friday 5 AM to 11 PM, Saturday and Sunday, 7 AM to 9 PM.

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