According to Global food, restaurant and hotel consultancy Baum + Whiteman’s latest trend report, the new year sees the rise of multiple cuisines, greater influence of technology, popping up of one-item restaurants (again), and many more. The main focus: vegetarian fast food meals.
For Chicago, this isn’t a totally new concept, but that’s why we are getting another health-focused, fast-casual chain. Veggie Grill (614 W. Diversey Pkwy., Lake View) should open in late fall, bringing with it a seasonally rotating menu of plant-based meals.
Never mind that this is Chicago is the town where burger and steak and rib and pizza joints are practically in our DNA. Steve Heeley, the CEO of Veggie Grill, truly believes Chicago is ready to embrace his veggie-centric restaurant concept.
With spots like Honeygrow, plus Left Coast, Native Foods, and LYFE Kitchen, Heeley dubs “the better-for-you category” already feels slightly cramped.
The first Veggie Grill to open beyond the West Coast, where 28 outposts have sprouted up in California, Oregon, and Washington since 2005, will open by year’s end at 614 W. Diversey Parkway in Lakeview on the city’s near north side. The company’s market research directed them here as their first stop in an expansion outside the West Coast.
That same research also showed that 80 percent of Veggie Grill’s guests are not vegan or vegetarian. As the name suggests, Heeley’s Veggie Grill is all about finding ways to make vegetarian eating an appealing experience, not only for hardcore vegetarians but for consumers new to the idea.
Heeley’s research has shown the public increasingly is open to what Veggie Grill has to offer:
“People are more mindful of their health, and they want to eat better,” notes Heeley.
The menu for the Veggie Grill fast-casual concept includes items such as a Santa Fe Crispy Chickin’ sandwich, a Quinoa Power Salad and something called the Sonoran Bowl, a mix of organic quinoa, black beans, carrots, avocado and a red pepper sauce among other ingredients.
“Everything is made from veggies, fruits, grains, and nuts,” Heeley says. “It’s not just a bunch of green stuff on a plate.”
According to Heeley, the most popular dish on his Veggie Grill menu is the Beyond Burger, a vegetarian burger that has pea protein as a principal ingredient. The Beyond Burger’s popularity suggests that, even in a vegetarian restaurant, customers still gravitate toward the familiar, even when it turns out not to be quite so familiar as they might have thought.
Similar to The Impossible Burger, currently overtaking Umami and other burger restaurants by storm on the West Coast. After Heeley opens Chicago’s first Veggie Grill on Diversey Parkway, a second will open downtown in the West Loop on Wells Street.
But we will have to see how he does with his next conquer, Boston.