Wed. Dec 7th, 2022

Kevin Hart’s new restaurant is not in Hollywood, but in a humble outdoor mall near Los Angeles International Airport. Yet the bankable movie star, (three of his films each made over $800 million) expects the world to beat a path to Hart House, his new plant-based fast-food restaurant.

Hart calls himself a “flexitarian,” doesn’t eat red meat, pork or shellfish but says “I love me some chicken.” In terms of interest in plant-based eating, he says “This idea was right in front of me. We explored how many people are trying this. It makes sense; you can’t ignore numbers.”

Hart is the star of films like Get Hard, Jumanji, Ride Along, The Upside, Fatherhood, DC League of Superpets, Central Intelligence and the upcoming Me Time, as well as numerous comedy specials.

With such a track record, I asked Hart if he was concerned about the notorious failure rate for restaurants. It is a tough industry where 60% of start-ups fail within the first year, and 80% don’t make it to their fifth birthday.

Hart, a four-time NBA Celebrity Game champion known for his competitive fire, bristled. “If you don’t swing at a ball, you won’t hit it. The failure is in not trying.”

I asked him if the 2019 muscle car accident he was in had made him more interested in health and healthy eating. Hart answered, “In general I’m a fitness guy, finding new ways to elevate my body and spirit. As I’ve gotten older and more conscious there’s a lot of things to do better for your body.” Asked how his basketball game was. Hart, who went to basketball camp with Kobe Bryant, grimaced. “I haven’t been out there in forever!”

The comedian may be on to something with his Hart House launch. A 2020 poll by Gallup found that 23% of US adults say they have reduced how much meat they consume. Meanwhile, a 2020 Gallup poll says 41 percent of U.S. adults say they’ve tried plant-based meats.

Where did the idea for the restaurant come from?

“It’s my idea,” said Hart. “People who love plant-based food don’t have the fast-food option. What if we created one? With a minimal menu?” He says he “talked to amazing group of partners,” who now include CEO Andy Hooper and Head of Culinary Innovation Chef Mike Salem. “They said ‘Kevin we believe in you.’”

Hart believes there’s already a critical mass of vegetarians and ‘flexitarians’ who may not be fully vegetarian, but like plant-based alternatives. “We’re creating another option. For people who like Wendys, McDonalds, Burger King—now they can have a plant- based option. It’s not about converting people. It’s about options.”

Hart House looks like an upscale fast-food restaurant, with its bright logos on the wall and smiling uniformed employees. What makes it different is the entirely vegan cuisine, including ‘cheeseburgers,’ ‘fried chicken sandwiches’, (including spicy Hot n’ Crispy Chick’n) and ‘chick’n’ nuggets.

There are fast-food staples like Oreo, chocolate, vanilla, and strawberry shakes (non-dairy). There are French fries and tater tots—which you can get together in a fried potato overload. There are salads, organic juices, and sodas. Six dipping sauces include Hart House Signature, Creamy Ranch, Hunny Mustard, Smokey BBQ, Sweet Heat, and Creamy Buffalo. Hart and company have even taken a page from In-N-Out Burger’s book with a ‘secret’ off-the-menu item, a triple-patty burger.

The goal is to provide an “affordable and flavorful” fast food alternative. The company says all items are “100% plant-based with no cholesterol, antibiotics, hormones, artificial colors, preservatives, high-fructose corn syrup, or trans fats.”

We met Hart at the pre-opening celebration on August 24. There were close to a hundred people jammed into Hart House. The restaurant is on the corner of Sepulveda Boulevard and 89th Street, less than a mile from LAX. The interior features a fresh design with bright colors, and a mural with the phrase “Change You’ll Crave.”

The near-airport location is a big part of the plan. Travelers on the way to or from the airport now have “another choice” versus cult favorite In-N-Out a block away. Hart House is also near enough to LAX that passengers with a layover could escape the airport for a fast-food vegan meal.

Hart said that he and his partners had been working on the concept for about three and a half years, continuing through COVID. “The goal is execution. Being near LAX was part of the plan—there’s foot traffic and car traffic here” at the mall.

Construction is under way on two additional locations. “We’d like to do at least six, in places like Vegas, San Diego, San Francisco.”

As we talked, Hart’s teenage daughter snuggled next to him. I asked her, as a teenage French fry connoisseur, how the fries shaped up. She gave a big smile.

In addition to providing a healthier fast-food alternative, Hart House says it is committed to offering employees living wages and quality benefits.

Hart, who donated 10% of opening day profits to the La youth charity Inner City Arts, thinks he can help make a change. “But it’s not about a strict ‘only do this, only eat that.’ I want people to understand there’s nothing wrong with wanting to try something different.”

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