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Atlanta Orders In: Upbeet is back, with healthy bowls and smoothies

This build-it-yourself bowl from Upbeet features steelhead trout, bamboo rice, cauliflower, green lentils, roasted chickpeas, sweet potatoes, cashews, pickled onions and curry coconut dressing. CONTRIBUTED BY WENDELL BROCK
This build-it-yourself bowl from Upbeet features steelhead trout, bamboo rice, cauliflower, green lentils, roasted chickpeas, sweet potatoes, cashews, pickled onions and curry coconut dressing. CONTRIBUTED BY WENDELL BROCK

With its superfood lattes, ultra-vivid smoothies, and salad and grain bowls, Upbeet reads like the fast-casual manifestation of Michael Pollan’s famous mantra: “Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.”

Co-owner Erik Maier, who first opened Yeah Burger 10 years ago, teamed up with partner Kelly Wallace to create the fruit-and-veggie-forward, virtually 100 percent organic Upbeet in 2017. The sustainable-food advocates certainly did not invent healthy fast food, but their nicely designed west Midtown space somehow elevated the genre in this town. No sodas and fries; lots of quinoa, bamboo rice and arugula.

This Buffalo chicken bowl is from Upbeet in Atlanta. CONTRIBUTED BY WENDELL BROCK
This Buffalo chicken bowl is from Upbeet in Atlanta. CONTRIBUTED BY WENDELL BROCK

Atlantans embraced Upbeet wholeheartedly. Months into a global pandemic, they still do — with some adjustments.

Upbeet closed from the end of March until May 11. It used that time to install an online ordering platform and curbside pickup. The restaurant already had partnered with DoorDash to implement delivery late last year. Now, customers can place orders via the DoorDash app, park in designated curbside spots, text upon arrival, and have their freshly made smoothies and bowls brought to their cars.

“This has always been on our to-do list, but this fast-tracked it, and it’s not perfect, but it’s working really well for us,” said Wallace, who joined the company in 2013 after careers in the fashion industry in New York, and boutique public relations in Atlanta.

Even before the pandemic, Maier, who has a background in the accounting and music industries, sensed a “huge shift” in how people want to access food. Now, he thinks digitalization is the future of fast-casual dining.

Safety is, too, most likely.

This taco bowl from Upbeet is made with seasoned ground Beyond Beef and crushed tortilla chips. CONTRIBUTED BY WENDELL BROCK
This taco bowl from Upbeet is made with seasoned ground Beyond Beef and crushed tortilla chips. CONTRIBUTED BY WENDELL BROCK

Though Upbeet’s dining room remains closed, it still offers counter service. Customers are urged to heed social-distancing markers, both outside and inside the building. If they don’t have a mask, they are asked to order online and wait outside. At least, that’s the official spiel: As I waited outside Upbeet in my car Sunday, I observed the staff giving paper masks to customers who requested them.

Diners are met at the door by a guest coordinator. Plexiglass shields separate customers from cashiers, and they are asked to exit via the patio at the front of the building.

According to Maier, business is down about 20 percent from last year. Compared with many other Atlanta restaurants, that’s a strong sales figure. During an interview, the owners acknowledged how fortunate they are, and how grateful. A second Upbeet is in the works, though they aren’t ready to share details.

As for staffing, Upbeet employs about 25 people, the same number as before the COVID-19 pandemic. The menu has been streamlined slightly; toasts and yogurt bowls currently are off, but the core lineup of salad and grain bowls hasn’t changed.

A staffer greets a customer at Upbeet, where masks are required inside. Courtesy of Wendell Brock
A staffer greets a customer at Upbeet, where masks are required inside. Courtesy of Wendell Brock

Meanwhile, both Yeah Burger locations (Westside, Virginia-Highland) have been closed since mid-March for renovations, with plans to reopen in the fall. The company files unemployment for its 30-member Yeah Burger team.

“Both of our restaurants are about 10 years old, and they needed to be renovated,” Maier said.

“We didn’t want to reopen,” Wallace explained, “and then have to close again to renovate.”

Is there a restaurant you want to see featured? Send your suggestions to ligaya.figueras@ajc.com.

UPBEET

Menu: bowls, smoothies, smoothie bowls

Alcohol: no

What I ordered: Beyond taco bowl; Buffalo chicken bowl; build-your-own bowl with bamboo rice, steelhead trout, sweet potatoes, cauliflower, green lentils, roasted chickpeas, pickled onions and curry coconut dressing. The food was impeccable, as always. The Beyond taco bowl, a throwback to classic taco kits, is made with seasoned ground Beyond Beef and crushed tortilla chips. My customized bowl really hit the spot; managers should add it to the menu (wink, wink). I saved the Buffalo chicken bowl for later. If you order during peak hours, you may face a wait, and the restaurant does sometimes run out of ingredients. (Sunday night, it was tuna poke and avocados.) If you elect to go with curbside, be sure to give the food runner your first name, which is how it appears on the DoorDash ticket. I discovered this after some delay.

Service options: order via DoorDash for delivery or pickup; order inside for takeout only

Safety protocols: follows all recommended guidelines

Address, phone: 1071 Howell Mill Road NW, Atlanta; 404-347-1071

Hours: 11:30 a.m.-8:30 p.m. daily

Website: upbeet.com

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