If you live on the East Coast, you may not have heard of Veggie Grill—which serves vegan dishes like Cauli-Mashed Potatoes and Crispy Chickin’ Wings—but that’s about to change.
The plant-based fast casual phenomenon has exploded across California, Oregon, and Washington over the past few years, with 18 current locations and sales up 85 percent over last year. “We’re growing rapidly,” says CEO Greg Dollarhyde. “We’re doubling the company every 18 months, and most importantly we’ve raised a lot of money to continue to grow.” Thirty-five million dollars, to be exact. And Dollarhyde recently jetted across the country to scope out the New York scene, where, he says, Veggie Grill will debut in 2014.
So how has the company managed to turn so many diners looking for a quick meal on to seitan and kale?
“People see vegan food as boring and mushy bean sprouts and brown rice,” he says. “The secret to success is familiar food.” So, instead of esoteric quinoa salads, think hamburgers, buffalo chicken wraps, and mac ‘n cheese. (It’s much healthier than most fast food, but processed faux meat abounds, and you’ll still have to watch calorie and sodium counts on a lot of options.) This allows customers who haven’t yet embraced the world of green juice and superfoods the opportunity to choose something recognizable, even if they wouldn’t necessarily recognize the ingredients.
Dollarhyde also says that the lack of proselytizing about veganism makes Veggie Grill more appealing to a mainstream audience. “We’re not on our soapbox saying ‘you’ve got to do this.’ We just create a healthful alternative for people.”
The approach is working. When Veggie Grill recently surveyed about 6,000 of its customers, it found that only 18 percent identified as one hundred percent vegetarian or vegan, meaning many of the people ordering tempeh might order a Rib-Eye in a different setting. Another case in point: In the Los Angeles Times’ 2012 Readers’ Choice awards, Veggie Grill won both ‘Best Vegetarian/Vegan Restaurant’ and ‘Best American Restaurant.’
Of course, Veggie Grill is also seizing a cultural moment, in which more and more Americans are realizing the benefits of diets more centered around plant-based foods, and the restaurant industry (especially in fast food) hasn’t yet caught up.
“There are a lot of sustainability benefits for the planet, it’s good for the animals, and it’s good for people,” Dollarhyde reasons. “A lot of people are betting on the fact that the eating habits of Americans are going to change, which is what I think is going to happen.” —Lisa Elaine Held
For more information, visit www.veggiegrill.com