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 movies, like JUMANJI, made over $800 million each) expects the world to beat a path to Hart House, his new fast food restaurant based on plants.
Hart calls himself a “flexitarian,” doesn’t eat red meat, pork or shellfish but says “I love me some chicken.” Regarding an interest in plant-based eating, he says “This idea was right in front of me. We looked at how many people try this. It makes sense; you can’t ignore numbers.”
Hart is the star of movies like Go Hard; Jumanji; Ride Along; Central Intelligence; The Side; Fatherhood; DC Superpets League; and the new Netflix release ME TIME, as well as a number of comedy specials.
With such a track record, I asked Hart if he was concerned about the notorious restaurant failure rate. It’s a tough industry where 60% of new businesses fail within the first year, and 80% don’t make it past their fifth anniversary.
Hart, a four-time NBA Hall of Famer known for his competitive fire, frowned. “If you don’t swing at a ball, you won’t hit it. Failure is not trying.”
I asked him if his serious muscle car accident in 2019 had made him more interested in health. Hart replied, “I’m generally a fitness guy, finding new ways to lift my body and spirit. As I get older and more aware there are many things to do better for your body.” He 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 launch at Hart House. A 2020 poll by Gallup found that 23% of US adults say they have reduced the amount of meat they eat. Meanwhile, a 2020 Gallup poll says 41 percent of US adults say they’ve tried plant-based meats.
Where did the idea for the restaurant come from?
“It’s my idea,” Hart said. “People who love plant-based food don’t have the fast food option. What if we created one? With a very small menu?” He says he “talked to an amazing group of partners,” which now includes CEO Andy Hooper and Culinary Innovation Head Chef Mike Salem. “They said ‘Kevin, we believe in you.'”
Hart believes there is already a critical mass of vegetarians and ‘flexibles’ who may not be strictly 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 is 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 completely vegan food, including ‘cheeseburgers’, ‘fried chicken sandwiches’, (including ‘Chick’n Hot n’ Crispy’ nuggets and ‘Chick’ n’ spicy).
There are fast food staples like Oreo, chocolate, vanilla, and strawberry (dairy free) shakes. There are french fries and delicious tots – that you can have together in a fried potato topping. 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’ item off the menu, a triple burger.
The aim is to provide an “affordable and tasty” 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. Almost a hundred people jammed into Hart House. The restaurant is on the corner of Sepulveda Boulevard and 89ed 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.”
A location near the airport is a big part of the plan. Travelers on their way to and from the airport now have an “alternative” to the cult favorite In-N-Out a block away. Hart House is also close enough to LAX that layover travelers could escape the airport for a vegan fast food meal.
Hart said he and his partners have been working on the concept for about three and a half years, continuing through COVID. “The goal is execution. Being close to LAX was part of the plan – there’s foot traffic and car traffic here” at the mall.
Construction is underway at two additional locations. “We’d like to do at least six, in places like Vegas, San Diego, San Francisco.”
As we spoke, Hart’s teenage daughter was nestled next to him. I asked her, as a teenage French fry connoisseur, how the fries were shaping up. She gave a big smile.
In addition to providing a healthier alternative to fast food, Hart House says it is committed to offering employees living wages and quality benefits.
Hart, who donated 10% of the opening day’s profits to youth charity La Inner City Arts, thinks he can help make a difference. “But it’s not about strict ‘just do this, just eat that.’ I want people to understand that there’s nothing wrong with wanting to try something different.”