Recently, we had the pleasure of sampling a few of the menu favorites at Veggie Grill of Portland. It’s easy to see how they are the largest chain of vegan restaurants in the U.S.
The restaurant is in a category called “fast casual,” but unlike other fast food, Veggie Grill’s menu isn’t filled with recipes for disaster. All of the plant-centric items are developed in-house and they are all delicious. Unlike Morgan Spurlock in his now famous documentary about fast food “Supersize Me” – you could eat here every day and not experience a medical crisis.
It’s a very liberating feeling being able to eat a burger and not feel like there may be consequences. And the burgers are great! It’s not like they are vegan, so they aren’t like a “real” burger — it’s like it’s too bad “real” burgers aren’t this good.
You should definitely give them a try.
Veggie Grill: 508 SW Taylor St. Portland, OR 97204
Q&A WITH STEVE HEELEY, CEO OF VEGGIE GRILL:
WL: For years, the best you could hope for in any restaurant was a “vegetarian” option – which would be a pretty sad plate of vegetables and flavor-free brown rice thrown together with whatever the cook could dig up at the moment. I hear you develop all your recipes in-house, what is the secret to creating full flavored appealing vegan dishes?
SH: We do develop all our recipes in-house. Four times a year we craft a series of new menu items that incorporate fresh, seasonal ingredients, using the approach of “what do our guests want to eat today?” We do a lot of product development and are always looking for interesting flavors or foods that our guests might not think they can order at a vegetarian restaurant. For example, our core menu offers guests familiar favorites, such as Buffalo Wings, Mac-n-cheese and Kung Pao Tacos, swapping staple ingredients for plant-based alternatives from cutting-edge companies like Beyond Meat.
WL: It seems like the first thing you hear from everyone, when discussing a plant diet, is “but how will I get protein?” What’s your answer to that?
SH: Contrary to popular belief, there are a myriad of plant-based ingredients that contain just as much protein, if not more, than non-plant-based items. We have incredible partners that source our high-quality protein ingredients, including Beyond Meat burgers and sausages, Gardein Chickin’ and Hodo Soy tofu. For example, the Beyond Burger used in our best-selling VG Beyond Burger, contains 20g of protein.
WL: It seems like being a vegan has historically been viewed in the same boat as being a patchouli soaked, counter-culture hippie. But lately, it seems like I’m hearing more and more about the benefits of adopting a plant diet — from some surprising sources. What are your thoughts?
SH: Surprisingly, about 80 percent of our guests don’t consider themselves vegan or vegetarian – they’re what we call “veggie positive”, meaning they are mindful about what they are eating and choose to move veggies, grains, fruits and nuts to the center of their plate. Our guests intuitively know plant-based food is better.
WL: How many Veggie Grill restaurants are there, and what are the plans for the future?
SH: We’re up and down the West Coast today, from San Diego through Seattle. In early 2018, we opened two locations in Chicago – making the total to 30 Veggie Grill locations. Our focus for the next few years is to target big cities across the United States, as well as targeted college campuses. We have plans to expand to nearly 50 locations by 2020.
WL: The restaurant’s popularity here on the west coast is not too surprising, but how about in other markets, like the Midwest, or the South? Is the veggie diet becoming mainstream there too?
SH: Absolutely! As more Americans make the shift toward plant-based eating, Veggie Grill is well positioned to bring its craveable, innovative, chef-inspired food across the country. With so many of our core consumers of millennials and mindful eaters living in cities like Chicago, Boston, and New York, we are excited to be entering these markets, offering a wide variety of affordable veggie-centric options that are better for our guests and for the planet.
WL: Do you have locations in foreign countries? Or plans for them?
SH: We do not currently have international expansion plans but are optimistic about the future.
WL: OK, final question. You know, Willamette Living Magazine is based in Corvallis, Oregon, home of the OSU Beavers. I think a Veggie Grill would do really well in our area, how about opening one here?
SH: Our team is always on the lookout for new locations to further grow the Veggie Grill brand and presence, and any site that fits our criteria for success will be considered.