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Organic fast-food chain founder Mac McCabe addresses Freeman

Feb. 8, 2007

From Fast Food Nation to Super Size Me, the quick-service restaurant industry is often portrayed as the epitome of everything that’s wrong with corporate America.

Mac McCabe is out to change that perception.

McCabe, who spoke at the Freeman School on Feb. 8, is president and co-founder of O’Naturals, an organic and natural fast food chain with locations in three states. The restaurants serves quick, healthy meals including fresh salads, stir-fry noodles, homemade soups, and flatbread sandwiches featuring ingredients such as goat cheese, organic roast beef, free-roaming chicken breast and wild Alaskan salmon. Most satisfying of all, the company adheres to business practices that are socially and environmentally responsible.

“Being a social entrepreneur is a process, not an event,” said McCabe. “I’m not sure there’s a company in America that’s 100 percent socially responsible, but we’re on a path and we must be on that path.”

McCabe spoke about social entrepreneurship in general and O’Natural’s in particular in a presentation sponsored by the Tulane Entrepreneurs Association, Net Impact and the Tulane Consulting Group.

An MBA graduate of Harvard Business School, McCabe has had a long career in both management and consulting. He was previously general manager of Northeast Cooperatives, the original natural foods distributor in the Northeast. He also served as CEO of Greyston Bakery and Eileen Fisher, was a founder of direct-mail company The Georgetown Collection, and held management positions at the Museum of Modern Art and L. L. Bean.

In 1997, McCabe met with Gary Hirshberg, president and CEO of Stonyfield Farm, to talk about Hirshberg’s idea to create a natural alternative for fast-food customers. Perhaps surprisingly, organic food consumers are heavy fast food users.

“You’re educated, you have a good income, you’re both working, you’ve got three kids at home, and between violin and soccer practice, you don’t have time to feed your kids,” McCabe explained. “So you rationalize that Subway is better than burger places or the Wendy’s burger is better than McDonald’s.”

McCabe surveyed those customers on what they wanted in fast-food restaurant and the result is O’Naturals. The company combines an all-natural, organic menu with a responsible, sustainable approach to restaurant construction, community relations and employee development. Just as significantly, however, the company emphasizes the need to turn a profit. “The most socially irresponsible thing you can do is to fail,” McCabe said, “because then your mission and all of your concerns are out the window.”

So, considering all the challenges and pitfalls, why should one consider being a social entrepreneur? “Ultimately there is nothing so fulfilling,” McCabe said. “You can use your MBA, you can harness your entrepreneurially spirit, you can possibly build a successful business and reap the financial reward and every day you can wake up just as I do, knowing that you’re doing at least something to help the planet and its residents.”

Last Updated 11/19/08