Foodservice Equipment & Supplies

MAR 2018

Foodservice Equipment & Supplies magazines is an industry resource connecting foodservice operators, equipment and supplies manufacturers and dealers, and facility design consultants.

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58 • FOODSERVICE EQUIPMENT & SUPPLIES • MARCH 2018 Next Level Burger Ownership: Matt and Cierra de Gruyter Founded: 2014, Bend, Ore. Segment: Elevated fast- casual, vegan Units Open: 5 Average Burger Menu Price: $8 Best Sellers: Signature umami mushroom and quinoa burger, all-American burger with tempeh bacon and vegan cheese Next Level Burger takes the all- American burger joint concept and gives it a plant-based twist. Going to market as the nation's first 100-percent vegan burger chain, the brand touts healthy, sustainable, delicious food that's plant-based, organic and GMO- free. Its menu offers a broad selection of signature burgers, franks, salads, fries and dairy-free shakes. Co-founder Matt de Gruyter left a high-flying career in venture capital and private equity to launch the con- cept with his wife, Cierra. Both had made personal transitions to plant- based diets and ultimately developed a passion for creating a business that would make a positive impact on hu- man and environmental health. They relocated from California to Bend, Ore., and in July 2014 opened the first Next Level Burger unit. "That was the beginning of what we call the burger revolution," Matt de Gruyter says. "We got immediate atten- tion, and lines were out the door. Bend is a small community but very focused on healthy, active, outdoor lifestyles. Within a couple of months, Alex Payne, one of the original architects of Twitter, came in. He shared our vision and became an investor, so what was already an aggres- sive plan became even more aggressive." A second unit, in Portland, Ore., followed in 2015 to equally enthusiastic response. "The crowds were insane. By the end of that first week, we'd sold out of just about everything and actually had to close early," de Gruyter says. Among the Portland unit's early customers was the global executive chef for Whole Foods Market, who recom- mended the concept to the retailer's Northwest region president. "They were getting ready to introduce the new 365 by Whole Foods Market con- cept and extended an invitation to us to be the on-site restaurant partner at the 365 store in Portland. That was our third unit, and how this whole journey with Whole Foods began. It's been a fantastic ride so far," de Gruyter says. Next Level Burger now operates units in 365 stores in Concord, Calif., Brooklyn, and Portland. Going forward, de Gruyter anticipates further growth through Whole Foods as well as independent corporate store develop- ment. No franchis- ing is planned. "Our aspirations are ridiculous," de Gruyter adds. "We hope to develop 1,000 stores within 10 years, assuming we can continue to execute quality food and a great experience." Describing Next Level Burger as elevated fast casual, de Gruyter says the goal from the start was to create a vegan concept that would appeal to everyone. "We're still refining the experience, but we wanted to stay far away from the stereotypical vegan or vegetarian restaurant, which too often were fine for some but not for all. We wanted to reinvent the American burger joint to be a place where everyone can enjoy the quintessential fast-food experi- ence and feel fantastic about what they're eating. And our unofficial goal was really to feed the people. We believed that if we gave people a better, healthier choice they'd choose it and that the impact of making that choice can be global. We feel like we're making the world a better place with every burger we sling. I can't find a better way to impact this planet than to help change the way people eat." FE&S Where's The Beef? Top: Ingredients in Next Level Burger's house- made burgers include quinoa, black beans, mushrooms and chia seeds. Toppings are fresh and organic. Cheeses are vegan, and the bacon is smoky tempeh. Photo c ourtesy of Next Level Burger Above: Next Level Burger's founders hope to reach 1,000 units in 10 years via corporate development and partnerships. The chain already has a partner- ship with 365 by Whole Foods Markets, which has units open within stores in Seattle (shown), Portland, Ore., and Brooklyn. Photo c ourtesy of Next Level Burger

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