Philosophy

Our food philosophy is driven by simplicity. I’d rather have you shocked by how delicious our turnip soup tastes than impress you with an exotic ingredient or fancy technique or flowery menu description.

We try to keep everything very simple, but very careful. If you eat with us for breakfast you know that we’re making the soup or salads in the morning and prepping for lunch. We don’t make ketchup. We don’t make Mayonnaise. We make just about everything else every day.

This is Fast Food. We’re obsessed with speed and constantly time ourselves. Our average serve times are around 3.5 minutes, which makes us a little slower than McDonald’s.

Many of you have been asking for more detail about the menu, so for the first time I’m gathering it all here. Enjoy!

Ayr Muir
Founder and CEO of Clover Food Lab

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Read on to learn:
– How we think about taste
– Why you might think we’re crazy if you learn how we make food
– Why our menu is tiny, changes, and we run out
– What’s so special about our drinks
– How we source our ingredients
– Who develops our recipes
– How we think about nutrition and food
– What to eat at Clover if you have allergies or dietary restrictions

 

Taste

We taste all day long. This is one of the most important roles our managers and leaders have. We’re not working with frozen, blended, factory-made, or processed ingredients. We don’t use “flavor enhancers,” artificial or natural flavors, additives, preservatives, or anything else you’d need a chemistry degree to understand. We rely on the farmer who grew our parsnip for flavor, the soil that produced our carrot, the chicken that laid our beautiful eggs. This is core to how we make food. Sometimes our carrots are sweeter, sometimes less sweet. We taste, we balance, we taste again. I can’t promise you that anything you have from Clover will taste exactly the same one day to the next. But we all work very very hard to make sure that the quality we achieve, the depth of and cleanliness of flavors is consistently unrivaled.

The other year I noticed we talk a lot about clean flavors. We started using those words without much discussion and didn’t even think twice about it until somebody asked us what we meant. When we talk about clean flavors we mean a whole collection of things. Food that tastes clean is food you want to hold in your mouth and savor. It’s not food you want to scarf down without thought. It’s food that has subtle aftertaste you enjoy. It feels great in your mouth. It smells beautiful.

We’re talking about food that hasn’t been overcooked. Clean flavors come from the first run, not from food that has been reheated or “flashed” right before service. We’re talking about food that hasn’t oxidized (common to food that is aging, think about how an apple slice turns brown). We’re talking about the lack of “off” compounds that come from sloppy cooking methods. Think about a bright yellow yolk that comes from shocking the egg in ice after boiling it for the exact right amount of time, not the grayish yolk and off flavors that come from overcooking and/or slow cooling. We’re talking about the lack of contamination of flavors (our onion cutting boards are never used for anything else). Clean flavors are identifiable. They are complex because the ingredients themselves have wonderful complexity, not because a lot of other ingredients are added on. When we talk about clean flavors we’re talking about flavors absent of chemical or natural additives. One of the reasons we make everything from scratch is that we want to leave out common additives like citric acid, fats we don’t like, and other additives that are in processed food. Not because citric acid is somehow bad, it just doesn’t taste clean. We don’t necessarily have anything against dirty food, but it’s not what we’re working hard every day to make.

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If you work at Chipotle, or Panera, or McDonald’s you might think we’re crazy

At Clover we do a lot of things unlike other fast food companies. Why? For taste of course.

It’s hard to overstate how radically different we operate vs. our competitors. The way we operate is unheard of in our industry. I mean unheard of to the point that others don’t believe me until I show them around. No, really, there is no back-of-house, everything we do is visible to our customers. At Clover we:

– Have no freezers. In the entire company. Not one.
– Change our menu day-to-day to stay in sync with the best tasting seasonal ingredients.
– Cut food as close as we can to when you’re going to eat (e.g., tomatoes are cut when you order)
– Keep your money in your region. (40-85% of our ingredients are from the Northeast)
– Use an unheard of amount of organic ingredients (typically 30-60% depending on time of year)
– Don’t EVER use any preservatives, “natural flavors,” “flavor enhancers,” “artificial flavors”*
– Make food that will improve your health (no need to tell the kids, but that food is good for them)
– Allow you to see us making your food. We have no “back of house” anywhere in our company.
– 100% of what we hand you is compostable. OK, nothing to do with taste. But it’s the right thing to do.

*This statement does not apply to the mayonnaise, and the Ketchup, which as I mentioned earlier, we don’t make.

 

Recipes

Everything we are today, every single recipe, everything we do, has been developed with help from our customers. We invite you to join those who are helping us improve every day.

Clover’s menu is in constant development. We make mistakes all the time. We work hard to make sure those mistakes are cheap, and that we learn from them. We’d rather share a rough recipe with you and ask you what you think than drive an item to final and tell you how great it is. This core philosophy explains why we got started with a truck in the first place.

To be clear, we never make food we think tastes bad. There are important internal controls. The most senior folks in the company meet weekly to discuss food. We taste, we talk about ideas, and we plan. But just because Chris, or Enzo, or Michael, or I loves the way something tastes isn’t enough. We set our ego aside and find out what you think.

If you have any comments, ideas, etc. the best way to share those with us is through our order takers. They collect all of the feedback they hear in a day and share it up. If you’re not near a location, or not the talking type, you can use Twitter, or comment here on the website.

If you would like to submit a recipe idea to Clover, use this form. We like recipes that come from real places and that have real stories tied to them. Our chickpea fritter was inspired by a falafel Ayr ate in Paris. Our breakfast sandwich was Jeremiah’s idea. Our cinnamon lemonade came from a customer who thought it might be a good idea. The Enzo Sandwich came from a salad Vincenzo’s family makes in Calabria, Italy.

 

Always changing menu and run outs

Since we don’t have freezers we work day-to-day with ingredients that have just come out of the ground, just been laid by a chicken, or just been picked. This fact defines our menu.

We have a small menu. Because we’re making everything from scratch we have to limit how much we do.

Our menu changes day-to-day. Because what is in season changes day to day, not every 3 months or 3 years.

We run out of items. We know this can mean we disappoint, but since we’re not working with shelf-stable or frozen foods we only have 2 choices: a lot of waste because we always have an oversupply or running out because we’re keeping the food fresh. We choose to run out.

So our menu is tiny, changes day-to-day, and we run out of stuff. That’s why we write it on a whiteboard, because it changes so often. It’s also why we can experiment so much with our food.

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Drinks

We’re developing a reputation for our drinks. You may have had our cinnamon lemonade, mulled cider, a blackberry switchel, maple soda, hibiscus iced tea, Barrington Coffee, or Pretty Things Jack D’Or beer. For most fast food beverages are an afterthought, a Coke or Pepsi fountain that earns high margins. We think of drinks a little differently.

Early on Rolando (who was our Chef) and I wanted to make drinks a part of our culinary conversation. So we started asking questions. Shouldn’t a great chef know as much about the coffee she’s serving as she does the sauce on the plate? Why should our sodas be made with who-knows-what? Why shouldn’t beverages be made daily? Why shouldn’t they change with the availability of ingredients? The most important question: how amazing can this drink taste?

So we started developing drink recipes right alongside our sandwich, salad, and soup recipes. We started visiting coffee roasters around the country, watching them roast, asking questions, and tasting and tasting and tasting. We started visiting New England breweries, and tasting and tasting.

I think one of the amazing things about our beverages is that while we’re not making anywhere near the beverage profit margin others expect, we’re still able to make money. We can make money selling you some the most amazing tasting liquids. It’s a beautiful thing. I don’t think I’d call it greed, but most other food operators, fast food as well as fine dining, just don’t focus on what their beverages taste like as much as they focus on what they’re making from selling those beverages.

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Ingredients

We put a ton of energy and thought into what we source and from whom. We showcase the best items we can buy. And if something is out of season or not available at the quality we love we just don’t use it, selecting instead something that makes better sense for that time of year.

When we started we bought almost everything from Russo’s, a regional mid-sized produce distributor. I went to meet Tony Russo, told him what I was up to, and we went from there. I’d known of Tony for a long time. His produce is the best in Boston markets. He’s been around for a long time (dig up an old Julia Child book and you’ll see she thanks Russo’s for their amazing produce). Tony understood what we were up to and would call me to tell me he had amazing shitake from Williamstown, MA, or potatoes from Hadley, MA. He knows all of the commercial growers in the Northeast. He could tell us when we just couldn’t get stuff locally which was as important as knowing what we could get locally.

We still buy from Tony, and now our volumes are much larger and growing. We’ve recently started to develop some direct relationships with suppliers. We had the pleasure of serving amazing tomatoes from Lindentree farm this past season. And coming into 2013 Lindentree, one of the best organic growers in my opinion, is planting for us. This is a dream. We’d always hoped to get to this point and it’s happening sooner than we expected. We’re buying a huge amount of beautiful roots this winter from Winter Moon Roots of Hadley, VT. All of our honey is bought directly, as is our maple syrup. We expect to develop more direct relationships as we grow. I’ll admit, we’ve used items from my garden (e.g., mint for lemonade) but this isn’t common. I only harvest 3 times a year : ) Eddie who runs our kitchen has brought us some delicious things as well.

Some of our supply relationships are something of a hybrid between distributor and direct sourcing. For example, we love Chip-N-Farm eggs. We have Chip-N-Farm pack our eggs in special boxes that are labeled just for Clover. Tony picks them up in Bedford, MA 3 times a week, and delivers them to us directly. We do something like this with other high-volume critical ingredients (e.g., our potatoes, yogurt, cheese etc.).

Rolando brought an organization called Farm Fresh Rhode Island/ Market Mobile to Massachusetts. He knew of them from living down there and really wanted them to expand to Mass. They weren’t sure it would make sense. So Rolando went around to a bunch of local chefs in Boston, convinced many of them to take Farm Fresh as a distributor, and now they make the trip to Boston. Market Mobile is a Farm-To-Business delivery service. Sort of like a regional distributor, but with better technology and a more direct model, and only local. We love what they’re doing.

We buy spices from Raymond at Christina’s Spices (they also have a retail presence). There are a few  other items we buy from smaller scale regional suppliers.

We buy shelf stable organic products from UNFI. This includes flour, chickpeas, etc. UNFI is an enormous organic distributor who primarily supplies Whole Foods. We buy fry oil from large national mainline suppliers (US Foods currently).

Beer, coffee, and tea are products we sell that we have very little hand in making. So we do our best to know those who are doing the making. In the case of beer we don’t feature a brewer unless we’ve had a chance to visit the brewery, meet the brewer, and understand their philosophy. We’ve handpicked all of the beers we sell and know our brewers very well. Coffee is a similar process. We feature some of the best roasters in the world. We’ve developed relationships with any roaster we feature before brining them in to Clover. We see them roast, get to know the owner, ask questions about their approach and philosophy. I don’t believe there is anyone who has visited more brewers or roasters than those of us at Clover. It’s been a unique and really fun journey.

Similar efforts apply to our tea (herbals are grown and mixed by Mary Blue of Farmacy Herbs, green and oolong are from Asha Teas and Tea Trekker). It took me almost 3 years to find tea of the quality we wanted. We couldn’t be happier with what we’re now offering.

Nutritionals

We’re a small company but we think it’s important you know what you’re eating and part of that transparency extends to nutritional content. We’re working to create a database of the nutritional content of all of our menu items, but we’re not there yet. We have an entire page devoted to this topic.

 

Gluten-free, allergies, sensitivities, dietary restrictions, vegan, etc.

Please ask. We work hard to make sure our order takers are well armed to answer your questions. We’re honest about the fact that we may have cross-contamination in our kitchens. We do our best to provide options for a range of eating habits, preferences, and restrictions.

We hear a lot of questions about gluten-free options. Our kitchens are not gluten free. The falafel recipe does not have any wheat flour (unlike most falafel), instead we use GF corn flour. At the restaurants we have platters available without bread. At the trucks we have “boats” which is a sandwich without the bread. We are exploring a GF bread option.

We can modify most items to make them vegan upon request. This includes two of our most popular sandwiches, the Soy BLT and the BBQ Seitan.

Winter Fruit Salad Launching Thursday 2/26 at breakfast

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Our Fruit Salad was inspired by a man in LA who cut fruit at a mile a minute, seasoned it with lime and chile flakes, and handed it to you in a Ziplock bag. We ran Clover fruit salad for several years, then took it off the menu for a few months while we re-developed a much more creative, dynamic recipe. We’re launching our brand new fruit salad at breakfast on Thursday with free samples for all customers. So what’s different about our fruit salad?

1. It’s just-cut. Meaning we cut it when you order it. No gray bananas or soggy honeydew melons. Nothing sitting in plastic for hours before being eaten. Don’t worry, we’ve been training on knife skills to make the process as fast as a breakfast sandwich.

2. Our fruit salad recipe will change weekly or bi-weekly depending on availability of seasonal produce.

3. Like all food at Clover, our fruit salads will be seasoned and garnished to bring out the individual flavors of each item.

4. During the winter, we’ll get to experiment with fruits from warmer climates. Blood oranges. Mangoes. Coconut. Kumquat. Pomegranate. We might even introduce you to stuff you’ve never tried in a fruit salad before. Taro root. Local turnip. Minced poblano.

JOIN US AT BREAKFAST THIS THURSDAY 2/26!

New coffee launching: Intelligentsia Tres Santos, Colombia

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Intelligentsia is one of the third wave of coffee roasters. They started in Chicago and now have roasting facilities in LA too. They roast using German roasters from the 1950’s. We visited their facility in 2011 and loved what we saw.

Are you giving this Colombian coffee a try? You might notice notes of sweet raisin and cocoa.

If you’re at a busy location you’ll see this on the breakfast menu tomorrow, if you’re at a smaller Clover, you may have to wait til Monday. Let us know what you think!

Venezuelan Plantain Launching tomorrow (Thursday 2/12/14)

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This sandwich started in Hadley, MA this summer. Andrea of Valley Malt grew 4000lbs of black beans. She wrote to us to see if we’d like to use them. I had honestly never heard of local black beans until this year. Never thought of them as a local product. We challenged ourselves to come up with a sandwich using black beans.

Enzo told us about how his dad, who is Venezuelan, would always make some kind of black bean dish at least once a week. He made us a spread using black beans, lime, cilantro, peppers, onions. We sourced cabbage, beets, and carrots from Red Fire and Queen’s Greens Farm. This sandwich uses sweet plantains, which means the plantains need to get nice and ripe before you use them. Chris figured out how to make crispy Jasmine rice, which gives the sandwich crunch.

We’re launching this companywide tomorrow (Thursday 2/12/15) at all restaurant locations. Use this post to give us your feedback!

Just What?

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I saw this at the HUB about 2 weeks ago. That’s a giant shipment of Just Mayo. I hadn’t seen mention that we’d worked it into our menu so I emailed Chris asking when it was going to go live and he told me we’re a week into it already.

We had a ton of debate about this change to a supplier. Since Clover started we’ve been testing mayo with the hopes that we’d find an option that tastes better than Hellmann’s (or at least was a bit cheaper). We had no luck and it was really frustrating. We tried all sorts of mayonnaise and we all would look at one another and admit that the Hellmann’s tasted better.

This pained us because the Hellmann’s commercial mayo has a thousand ingredients, most of which I’d have to look up to understand. And it has a good deal of cholesterol and some other stuff that’s linked to health issues. And it’s really expensive!

Ali, who used to run our catering, brought in Just Mayo from the grocery shortly after it came out this past fall. I thought it was awesome but we had some skeptics among our group. So we followed up and blind tested. Still skeptics. So then we had Chris make the items that use mayo (e.g., potato salad) and then blind tested that. This went on for months. We finally got to a place where we could agree that even those among us with the most sensitive mouths were enjoying if not preferring the Just Mayo. This all happened in the food development meetings, which by the way, you’re invited to join (Tuesdays at 3pm at the HUB).

But there was still some discussion. So that’s why Chris released it into the wild without fanfare. He wanted to see if there were any comments or objections. Now 1 week and tens of thousands of meals into this experiment we’ve heard not a peep. That’s from a company that captures thousands of comments/ points of feedback a month.

So there it is all, you’re eating Just Mayo. And that means our mayo has fewer, higher quality ingredients (10 total). And by the way, it’s vegan. So the menu is more accessible overnight. Enjoy!

Megan hands Amy Poehler a cup of Clover Hasty Pudding

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That was Megan after she handed two cups of Clover Hasty Pudding to the driver of the black SUV that Amy Poehler was inside of. We hope Amy got to try one. Megan is our HR director and resident comedian. She was beaming for many hours after the parade.

The parade was surreal. We assembled on the corner of Mass Ave and Quincy St. Next to us was a group of Harvard cheerleaders, Miss Massachusetts, the Duckboat, and a clown. We opened up the awnings. Amy got out of the SUV and into in a pale blue convertible surrounded by Harvard boys in drag. Brett started to drive the truck at 1 mile/hour and the whole street filled up with people.

Hordes of students crowded the truck with arms outstretched and ran alongside for as long as they could considering there were six-feet snowdrifts everywhere. One of them kept screaming “Me! Me! Hasty Pudding for me!” We ended up serving hundreds of apple fritters, 24 quarts of sweet pudding and 24 quarts of savory pudding off the truck and an equal amount at the restaurant afterwards. It was a wonderful collaboration. Thanks to all who made it happen. We’re considering putting Hasty Pudding on the permanent menu at Harvard only, in honor of of our across-the-street neighbors. Read on for more photos of the parade…

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Seasonal platters will be in our future

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After lots and lots of requests we started playing around with platters made of the seasonal sandwich ingredients.

A couple things we realized:

-The platters should come with a grain salad and a bean salad

-The sauce should come on the side

We tested our first versions at the Food Dev meeting, and we’ll be experimenting with them further over the next few weeks.

3pm special: thick potato chips

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We’re going to be selling Clover food during the intermissions of Hasty Pudding shows this year. It’s one of a bunch of really cool collaborations we’re doing with Hasty Pudding this year.

Chris brought these potato chips as an idea and we tinkered with the recipe until we got something we loved. We’re featuring them at 3pm at all locations for the next 2-3 days.