By Ryan Slattery
Chef Spike Mendelsohn describes it as the “most delicious burger on the planet, for the planet.”
His biggest challenge is convincing the world it is. And that climate change is real.
Mendelsohn, a former beef burger czar, pulled a 180 and to create three plant-based fast-food joints in New York City, along with a number of kiosk-style outlets inside Whole Foods stores all along the eastern seaboard.
Changing minds and attitudes, while helping the earth itself, is what PLNT Burger is all about.
“When you look at climate change through the lens of food, adapting to a plant-based diet could be the big solution. We have to shift our diets. It’s not a one-night overhaul, but we need to eat more plant-based food. I’m a strong believer in that,” Mendelsohn says. “If you asked me that seven or eight years ago, I would have been like, ‘What are you talking about?’ My eyes are open now. It’s important to live a balanced life with your food.”
Mendelsohn didn’t always feel this way. A meat eater and burger maestro, it wasn’t until his friend and business partner Seth Goldman slipped some Beyond Meat burgers under his chair at a conference they were attending and asked for his opinion, did he adapt.
“It was funny, he didn’t know my wife Cody was vegan. She was always saying there was nothing on the menu for her. Then this comes about,” he explains. “I was really amazed by the product. It drew me in. It seared and cooked like a burger and tasted delicious. For me, it was something super fresh, like if you replaced an artist’s palette with fresh colors.”
While plant-based burgers likely won’t save the world from climate change, they support a diet that will improve your health and life longevity. Mendelsohn himself says he has “a very unique and balanced diet” and is “leaning vegan more and more every month.”
PLNT Burger’s recently opened third NYC location in Bryant Park joins its other casual fast-food eateries in Union Square (139 4th St.) and Nomad (1147 Broadway) with further expansion expected this year.
PLNT Burger started as a test concept with a kiosk inside Whole Foods. It did “astronomical numbers,” according to Mendelsohn, and that led to the opening of the brick-and-mortar shops in New York City. Its success equates to the evolution of the Beyond Meat patty that went from 12 ingredients to six–peas, beets, potatoes among them, with less emulsifiers–to improve a mealy mixture to a crisp patty. Its texture and taste surprises and converts carnivores.
At one point, they ran a clandestine Believe or Not challenge on social media where PLNT customers would take a burger home to their friends, not tell them its vegetarian, and record their reaction.
“We got some really cool content from people sitting around the dining room and they were like, ‘Wow, this is delicious.’ And then they’re told it’s plant-based and their jaws drop. In the end, we just want to impress you with our burger.”
The menu consists of PLNT burgers with options to add caramelized onions, pickles, plant-based American cheese, lettuce, and tomato. There is also a spicy plant-based chick’n sandwich topped with hot sauce and plant-based pepperjack cheese, and a Save the Bay Filet, a faux fish that has all the textures and flavor of the original. Popular sides are sweet potato and green bean fries.
“It’s mind boggling on what you can do with plants and innovation these days and not have to sacrifice the flavor or eating occasion,” Mendelsohn says.