Food On Demand’s next Outstanding Operator feature is PLNT Burger.

PLNT Burger is a burger chain with a menu that’s entirely plant-based. The brand is being recognized for its operational savvy, growth in non-traditional locations and work in innovating the fast-food sector.

“Top Chef” alum Spike Mendelsohn joined forces with Seth Goldman, Honest Tea’s CEO and Beyond Meat’s executive chairman, to create PLNT Burger after meeting at a food policy conference in 2017.

Goldman had placed a cooler filled with Beyond Burgers under Mendelsohn’s chair, encouraging him to try it out. Mendelsohn was initially skeptical but became impressed after grilling the burgers at home. With both sharing a passion for sustainability, the pair soon after began collaborating.

Non-traditional start 

Wanting to test out the new concept, the brand opened its first location in 2019, inside a Whole Foods Market in Silver Springs Maryland, operating out of a 110-square-foot countertop space format.

Jonah Goldman, PLNT Burger co-founder and director of marketing

In an interview with Food On Demand, Jonah Goldman, who’s also a co-founder and the director of marketing at PLNT Burger, said launching through the market was a smart financial move.

“For a restaurant, opening up a brick-and-mortar [location] can be quite expensive and requires risking and raising a ton of capital. Whereas opening in Whole Foods, we were able to open on a shoestring budget,” he said.

Despite launching just six months before the pandemic, PLNT Burger was able to gain popularity as supermarkets were deemed essential to stay open during that time.

The partnership proved successful, with PLNT Burger becoming one of Whole Foods’ highest revenue partners in the region. This led to the opening of 11 more Whole Foods locations across the East Coast within the last four years.

“It’s a great, mutually beneficial relationship that we have because we’re able to provide so much value, extra food options for their clientele, and their teams…and it’s passive income for them,” said Goldman.

PLNT Burger’s first location, inside a Whole Foods in Silver Spring, Maryland.

The chain states its menu is favored by not only vegans or vegetarians. The menu serves Beyond Meat burgers, veggie burgers, vegan chicken sandwiches, vegan chili, sweet potato crinkles, dairy-free shakes and more.

Move into the Big Apple 

PLNT Burger eventually opened three brick-and-mortar locations in New York City, all with different real estate formats due to location. The restaurant located in Bryant Park, for example, provides more of a streamlined, walk-up experience, with minimal stool seating, whereas the restaurant on Broadway homes a more dine-in component, resembling “a retro burger joint of the past.”

While the brick-and-mortar locations do not have a drive-thru lane, they are all positioned in areas with high foot traffic and equipped well for on-the-go customers. Restaurants feature kiosks to order, menu boards, as well as QR codes to facilitate the order process and drive downloads to its app.

Off-premises operations

The brand offers delivery through all major third-party players, implementing a strategy to ensure employees do “a good job of sealing the bag and expediting it out of the kitchen and handing it to the driver,” said Goldman.

To have a further connection with its off-premises customers, the company has spent significant effort in developing its app. The app debuts an easy user experience, which offers first-party ordering and order tracking.

As for all restaurants, utilizing first-party ordering plays a pivotal role for PLNT Burger. Allowing the brand to “be able to understand more about guests through that back end, and see our top spenders and trends and what items are ordered most frequently,” said Goldman.

PLNT Burger offers a fully plant-based menu.

PLNT Burger offers a fully plant-based, kosher menu.

“We’re able to segment campaigns and design rewards based on what we’ve learned from interacting and seeing the behavior of our most loyal fans,” he said.

The burger chain gives incentives to customers for ordering through first-party, such as offering an extra treat or adding a coupon for a free item. Goldman notes they often launch “fun campaigns” themed around the season or holiday—such as the current “12 Days of Deliciousness” providing discounts on select featured items.

Customer engagement  

PLNT Burger places a focused emphasis on guest feedback. The brand sends out text-message surveys to customers after they order online, powered through Ovation, a customer feedback platform.

“This allows us to internalize bad guest experiences and learn from them, and also share the positive guest experiences online by inviting guests to make their experience public through Google or Yelp Review,” Goldman added.

The burger chain also uses the company Momos to better manage its online reputation. Momos aggregates feedback across all ordering channels. “It makes it easy to respond to reviews across all 14 locations, instead of always being on Google My Business and logging into each location and responding to each one [comment].”

Another positive avenue for PLNT Burger is catering, especially with attracting various environmental groups located in NYC.

“We have a unique approach to catering, which is really to work with the organization and try to understand them. If we have a catering customer who’s willing to order through our platform, we make sure that we have a personal connection with them,” said Goldman.

PLNT Burger provides customizable plant-based menus and packages including drop-off catering options or on-site events at any of their NYC locations.

Goals for a greener future

Looking ahead, PLNT Burger plans to continue to expand with goals to “lead the plant-based fast-food movement.”

Goldman relays that the mission is not just to serve innovative food, but to also help save the planet—by further educating others on the impact of their food choices, and highlighting environmental and sustainable benefits surrounding plant-based production alternatives.

“The main focus for this year is to do all of that diligence to make sure that we’re able to sustain the growth and achieve our goals of revolutionizing fast food.”

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