Getting America to eat more plants, one restaurant at a time

Kai Ryssdal Feb 28, 2013
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Getting America to eat more plants, one restaurant at a time

Kai Ryssdal Feb 28, 2013
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This may not come as a huge surprise to most of you, but a study out of Oxford University last month found that vegetarians are 32 percent less likely to be hospitalized, or die, from heart disease than are meat-eaters.

In fact, Americans are eating less beef, chicken and pork than in the past. Some of it might be the rising cost of meat, but it’s also likely that news of the downsides to a carnivorous diet are getting to us. We are realizing that veggies and grains are better for you.

Thus the relatively quick success of the Santa Monica, Calif.-based fast food chain Veggie Grill. It serves up what the industry calls a plant-based diet. That means no animal fat — no butter, no milk, no eggs. Its burgers and chicken sandwiches are made from soy, and the flavor is catching on.

There are 16 outlets on the West Coast, including a handful in Oregon and Washington. Greg Dollarhyde is the CEO and, buoyed by healthy sales and $20 million in financing, he plans to double the number of restaurants in the next 18 months.

“The plan is to go up and down the West Coast because it’s the same time zone and easy to get to,” said Dollarhyde. “But we get all sorts of emails of ‘When are you coming to New York? When are you coming to Boston? When are you coming to Dallas?'”

But how do take a plant-based diet to, say, Chicago — home of the deep dish pizza and the Union Stock Yards? Dollarhyde has one word: taste. As long as the food tastes good and familiar, people will come.

But he will make sure not to grow too fast. “The biggest concern is when you change time zones,” Dollarhyde explained. “If you are on the West Coast and you go to the East Coast, you are just getting up and they are at lunch. Then when you are at lunch, they can’t find you. And if something goes wrong, that is a long plane ride to fix it.”

That said, however, he does hope to have a Veggie Grill in New York sometime next year.

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