When you think of fast food, what comes to mind? A fairly unappetizing mix of premade blandness kept warm under heat lamps. Or even worse, a deep fried dinner.

Think again.

Try to remember the last time you ate fast food. You were probably in a rush, in need of sustenance, and you saw the neon sign. Fast food — or, more specifically, the fast casual segment that does not offer table service but does offer a quality product — is undergoing the greatest transformation since the McDonalds brothers sold their business to Ray Kroc. The transformation is moving faster than it can be defined. Venture capitalist, investor and author Matt Bodnar appropriately calls this sector “Fresh Casual.”

What if this becomes a routine part of your diet? It will. And if retail specialists have their way, it will be in a location conducive to your lifestyle.

And what is transforming may surprise you — fresh, locally sourced ingredients that are healthy. These are sites with contemporary interiors, LED displays and “cool” lighting — not harsh fluorescents. Most offer Wi-Fi and other customer amenities, and utilize social media extensively to keep an open dialogue with their valued customers.

Colliers International client LYFE Kitchen is a leader in this trend: addressing health and sustainability by offering an array of menu items that are good for the consumer and good for the planet.


LYFE Kitchen (Colliers International)

The reasons for this fast-moving trend are fairly prosaic: a nation in the midst of what Dr. Mark Hyman calls the “Diabesity Epidemic,” a new generation of budget diners looking for alternatives that match their fit lifestyle and significant capital chasing the next big thing.

And if the new entrants are not exactly serving super foods like quinoa-and-bean salads, the use of higher quality proteins has created a new burger war (think Five Guys, Smashburger, Bareburger, for instance) and even fine dining superstars like Danny Meyer are looking at the margins of his Shake Shack concept and placing a growth bet there.

Ironically, taste and “mouth” in industry vernacular (the combination of salt and fat) built empires. But the realization that a Big Mac attack can contribute to an unwanted attack involving the heart has led entrepreneurs and restaurateurs, buoyed by Private Equity capital, to create great-tasting food that is good for you. You can have it all.

And for the first time, the most maligned diner in America — the Vegetarian — is finding fast casual outfits that cater to their needs: Veggie Grill and Native Foods Café are growing and have recently received $20 million and $15 million respectively in new funding.

So the next time you hanker for something fast, cheap and delicious, walk past the neon and you will be sure to find a clean, contemporary spot that provides the taste you crave, in an affordable quick service environment. And all with no guilt. Now that is icing on the cake.