Plant-based food chain Veggie Grill to open Downtown Berkeley restaurant

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Veggie Grill, a plant-based fast-casual restaurant, is holding a grand opening for its Downtown Berkeley location Friday at 10:30 a.m.

Veggie Grill serves food free of animal products, antibiotics and hormones and is located at 48 Shattuck Square. The chain has wanted to open a restaurant in Berkeley for a long time, according to Veggie Grill CEO Steve Heeley. As a veggie-centric food chain, Heeley said many of Veggie Grill’s core consumers are in the Berkeley area.

“In some respects, the whole veggie-positive movement started in Berkeley,” Heeley said. “In particular, a high percentage of college students are plant-based eaters or veggie-centric.”

Some proceeds from the grand opening will benefit Berkeley Student Food Collective, or BSFC, according to Chief Marketing Officer Leah Smith. The organization will participate in the ribbon-cutting ceremony, Smith said, and the restaurant hopes to build an ongoing partnership with BSFC.

The restaurant held an RSVP-only “exclusive preview” Thursday, serving free food to members of the media and community members with coupons, which were circulated to student and community organizations.

Berkeley Organization for Animal Advocacy, or BOAA, member and campus sophomore Suzannah Smith said BOAA members were invited to the preview. Smith said the food was delicious, and she is glad to see more plant-based options come to Berkeley. BOAA hopes to partner with the restaurant in the future to advance animal rights legislation, according to Smith.

Vegan campus junior Loella Disto received a coupon through the Berkeley chapter of Direct Action Everywhere, an animal liberation organization. She received a free entree, appetizer and fountain drink and said she was excited to incorporate Veggie Grill into her rotation of regularly frequented restaurants.

“It’s fast food, and it encourages my nonvegan friends to come here,” Disto said. “There’s this stigma about vegans only eating grass, but here they can find food that they like too.”

Heeley said the team is glad to be in a location with many plant-based options, because it signals that there are consumers in the area interested in vegetarian and vegan food.

“The team has been out visiting the other plant-based restaurants,” Heeley said. “Our offerings are very different than most of the other plant-based restaurants that are out there, so it’s just another option for people.”

Ernesto Quintero, an owner of Saturn Cafe, a vegetarian diner in Downtown Berkeley, said Saturn is excited about Veggie Grill’s opening and that increasing the variety of plant-based options in Berkeley is a good thing. Quintero and Heeley said each of their restaurants offer unique items and that they don’t expect to detract from each other’s business.

“Towns that offer vegetarian and vegan options are great for the world, and I consider them a win for us,” Quintero said.

Heeley said hiring local staff is important to the corporation and that the current staff is a mix of campus students and other community members.

“The customer service looks great, and they’re very excited, so I’m excited,” Disto said.

Contact Olivia Nouriani at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @olivianouriani.