Forget fast food; fast casual is how discerning foodies satiate themselves these days. These kinds of chains have grown increasingly more common in recent years, and now plant-based eateries are officially getting in on the trend. Brands like Veggie Grill and by CHLOE are poised for nationwide expansion, ready to bring comforting vegan eats to diners everywhere.
by CHLOE opened its first location in Manhattan in 2015. Already, the colorful, cheerful chain has seen extensive expansion.
“We would love to see more by CHLOE locations in the cities we are in as well as other cities in the U.S.,” says Wasser. “Ideally, we also see ourselves expanding internationally in the next 10 years. We’ve received such amazing feedback thus far and have been lucky to have been able to expand quickly across three states within the last two years.”
The by CHLOE menu is packed with crowd-pleasing eats like burgers, mac ‘n cheese, pesto meatball subs, air baked French fries and cupcakes—and the brand’s cute, retro styling seems made for Millennials.
by CHLOE’s popularity is in keeping with the rise in plant-based cuisine. According to research firm Mintel’s Global New Products Database (GNPD), there’s been a 25 percent increase in vegetarian claims and a 257 percent rise in vegan claims in global food and drink launches between September 2010 to August 2011 and September 2015 to August 2016. And another Mintel publication, “The Protein Report: Meat Alternatives US 2017,” cites that 31 percent of Americans are now opting in to meat-free days.
Photo courtesy of Native Foods Café
Native Foods Café—which has been around since 1994—has locations in California, Oregon, Colorado and Chicago. Given how far back it dates, the company was a pioneer for the plant-based movement. The word “vegan” was hardly recognizable in the early 90s, after all.
The brand is currently undergoing a major transition, says Rache Brand of the restaurant’s marketing team. The process started with the renovation of its flagship store in Wicker Park, Chicago, home to corporate chef Carolyn Corcoran and culinary team. “We have a second renovated store in Encinitas which has a full sweets display, kombucha on tap and snacks. We are slowly recrafting our story through revised branding, events, demos and social.”
Everything on the plant-based menu is made in house, and it includes nachos, wraps, bacon cheddar burgers, gyros, tacos and oatmeal creme pies. “Our supply chain, servers and culinary team are expertly trained in vegetables—how many restaurants can say that?” adds Brand.
Then there’s Veggie Grill. The all-vegan chain—which opened its first location a decade ago— serves burgers (including Beyond Meat’s latest product, the Beyond Burger, that “bleeds” like real beef), “fish” tacos, fried chickin, buffalo wings, “crab” cake and lots of other twists on familiar foods. While the chain currently has 28 locations in California, Washington and Oregon, it’s on the cusp of expanding nationwide.
“Veggie Grill plans to double the size of the company over the next three years,” says social media marketing manager Kristen Siefert. “In 2017, Veggie Grill will be opening our first locations beyond the West Coast in two new markets in the Midwest and on the East Coast.”
Photo courtesy of Veggie Grill
In the midst of the growth of these veg-strong concepts, popular fast casual spots like Chipotle, Blaze Pizza, Uncle Maddio’s and Freshii are also expanding—and they’re known for featuring vegan-friendly food on their menus. Chipotle rolled out meatless sofritas (a meat substitute made with tofu), Blaze and Uncle Maddio’s offer vegan cheese and Freshii has a litany of plant-heavy menu options.
As Mintel’s Global Food and Drink Trends 2017 report foresees: “The preference for natural, simple and flexible diets will drive further expansion of vegetarian, vegan and other plant-focused formulations.” The research firm predicts new products and marketing “that casts plants in starring roles.”
Veggie Grill CEO Steve Heeley confirms the role of “flexitarians” (IE people who want to eat less meat and more plant-based foods) in the company’s growth. “We do attract vegans and vegetarians, but about 80 percent of our guests don’t consider themselves vegan or vegetarian. They’re what we call ‘veggie positive.’ These are folks that are mindful about how they eat and have made a conscious decision to move veggies, grains, fruits and nuts to the center of their plate.”
All in all, customers of all kinds seem to be clamoring for more plant-based cuisine.
As Wasser said of the by CHLOE’s expansion: “When we started opening additional locations in New York and LA, we were flooded, and continue to be, with emails from cities across the country, from Dallas to Minneapolis, Seattle to Boston, encouraging us to bring by CHLOE to their neighborhood.”
Hannah Sentenac is a freelance writer and journalist who covers veg food, drink, pop culture, travel, and animal advocacy issues. She’s written for Live Happy magazine, Foxnews.com, MindBodyGreen.com, and numerous other publications and websites. Hannah is also the Editor-in-Chief of LatestVeganNews.com, a publication dedicated to positive, original news from the vegan and plant-based world.