Eating plant-based fast food is anything but a fad—according to the Alliance for Science, as of 2022, one in 10 Americans say they don’t eat meat. And while major fast food chains like Burger King, KFC, and Taco Bell have introduced plant-based meat items, there’s yet to be a true explosion of vegetarian- and vegan-only fast food options. But now, the planned expansion of Next Level Burger might change that.
What is Next Level Burger?
Next Level Burger started in Bend, Oregon in 2014 by Matt and Cierra de Gruyter, who wanted to create a plant-based burger chain that was all about quality and sustainability as a reaction to the ongoing climate crisis. The restaurant is officially recognized as America’s First 100% Plant-Based Burger Joint.
The menu includes 21 different burgers using Beyond Meat, Beyond Chicken, and, in one instance, Fish(less) Filet, plus dairy-free shakes in flavors like Peanut Butter Cup and Chonky Monkey Rocky Mountain High (almonds, bananas, and chocolate chips), as well as traditional flavors like chocolate, strawberry, and vanilla. The offerings blow most similar places out of the water, even beating out Taco Bell’s many veg-friendly items.
As of now, Next Level Burger has only nine locations, six of which are located in Whole Foods Markets. According to trade publication Restaurant Business, however, the chain has plans to exponentially grow, quadrupling in size by 2025 and eventually expanding to 1,000 locations thanks to a recent $20 million investment. It might not seem like much compared to some of the fast food giants (McDonald’s, for example, has 38,000 locations worldwide), but it’s a sign that we can expect a wave of vegetarian and vegan fast food options on the horizon.
Other vegan and vegetarian fast food chains that are growing
The success of Next Level Burger’s expansion could mean more money invested into other existing meat-free chains. Native Foods, for instance, currently has 11 locations spread across the country, and as a more fast-casual chain with options other burgers would serve as a nice companion to Next Level’s menu without necessarily competing with it directly. Texas-based Project Pollo, which has 18 locations in Texas alone, is now expanding into Colorado, Nevada, and Arizona with its plant-based chicken-focused menu. Veggie Grill, which started in 2006 and is one of the longest running vegetarian chains out there, now clocks in at 31 locations nationwide.
And there are numerous other burger-focused vegan and vegetarian options continuing to pop up:
The rise may be slow and steady, but it’s one that shows no signs of slowing down. Before we know it, these vegan burger chains will be going head to head with the big fast food boys.