Vegans and meat-eaters can unite over the fast-casual chain’s intentional menu offerings and we’re here to help prove it with designated vegan food prep areas and cashew-based milkshakes
The Covid-19 pandemic has shifted the restaurant world. Responses have been as varied as the field itself and as quickly changing as the regulations they have to follow.
With suppressed business comes the opportunity (or sometimes the necessity) to experiment. At San Diego-based Burger Lounge, September 2020 ushered in the Flora and Fauna menu, a reenvisioning of the chain’s vegan options. This movement towards diversifying vegan options began in 2019 when they reformulated their Thousand Island dressing, buns, and ancient grain patty to be egg and dairy-free.
Just these small changes generated a notable increase in sales and the challenges of the pandemic accelerated the company’s agenda “to be more efficient, more nimble, and more creative. Our menus are a reflection of that,” explains founder Dean J. Loring. “We’re providing a differentiated approach to rapidly changing social and cultural paradigms. In addition, demand for plant-based alternatives has only increased during the pandemic and our guests are asking for more.”
The new Flora and Fauna menu offers a balance of animal and plant-based proteins. Nearly every animal-based item has a vegan counterpart that relies on swapping, not deducting, ingredients. The aim is to capture the flexitarian—those who want the familiar experience of an animal-based burger but without the baggage of animal agriculture.
After testing various vegan meats, Burger Lounge is moving forward with Impossible. “This was a difficult decision,” says Loring. “We tested the Impossible product and the Sweet Earth product in separate restaurants. For guests looking for an alternative to meat, the Impossible was the clear preference and offers a differentiated choice between our own Ancient Grain Vegan Burger and what a Flexitarian might prefer. They are different audiences and prefer different choices.”
At Impossible, like at Burger Lounge, the main customers are meat-eaters. They are the consumers actively making the choice between a cow or Impossible burger and it is their choice of Impossible that makes the greatest impact. The fact that it’s also vegan is a bonus for the rest of us.
Burger Lounge, a business grounded in eco-conscious choices, is already dedicated to grass-fed beef. A choice that supports a lower environmental impact over factory farming. Still, animal agriculture is responsible for 14.5% of the world’s greenhouse emissions, grass-fed or not (read the UC Davis report here) and the new vegan options pair ethical concerns over land use (Impossible uses 96% less land than animal ag), humanitarian concerns in the meatpacking industry, and the growing sentiment for animal welfare into a Burger Lounge quality burger without sacrificing flavor.
This is not being pushed on customers “demand for plant-based alternatives has only increased during the pandemic and our guests are asking for more,” says Loring. For decades the demand for plant-based meats was not lacking, but there was a short to nonexistent supply of products that could meet the standards of the majority public.
These days, Impossible Foods is a household name. The soy-based, beefy, grounds have hit the apex of American culture—Super Bowl ads and the New York Times recipe section.
At Burger Lounge the new vegan burger offers that surge of flavor, the kind that coats the mouth in a way grain-based burgers simply can’t.
But Burger Lounge’s grain-based burgers should not be overlooked. Since opening in 2007 the Ancient Grain patty has filled customer’s hunger for whole foods. The burger blends quinoa, brown rice, and fonio (and nutty protein-packed cereal grains originating in West African) with zips of zucchini, pops of corn, and other vegetables. It’s a wholesome and satisfying dish made of ingredients you can nearly distinguish by eye alone.
At Burger Lounge attention is given to preventing cross-contaminate; an issue some fast food companies serving vegan meats have been called out over and even sued for. “We use separate fryers for frying meat and non-meat items, we use all separate utensils for meat, chicken, fish, and plant-protein, and we have separate cooking areas, including dedicated utensils, for all plant-based menu items,” says Loring.
Most chains introducing vegan options skip right past cheese, focusing on the meat alone. Burger Lounge takes a holistic approach, ensuring a 1 for 1 ingredient swap so every vegan burger delivers the same experience as the non-vegan counterpart. Including all the cheese, all the sauces. The company sources vegan cheddar from Good Planet Food, a popular coconut, potato starch, and tapioca based vegan cheese made in Greece, to melt over burgers and fries.
The Flora (vegan) version of burgers run +$1.95 more than their Fauna (animal) counterparts. The Flora Classic ($9.95), embraces notes of a backyard bbq with a melt of vegan cheddar under swirls of ketchup, mustard, fresh onions, and pickles. The S.O.B. “Son of a Butcher” Burger (named so because Loring is literally the son of one) is a fast favorite. It comes with vegan cheddar, sweet knots of caramelized onions, pickles, and a slather of vegan Thousand Island dressing.
Flora Cowboy Fries ($8.95) enjoy no price difference with the choice of Impossible and vegan cheese. A mound of fresh-cut fries are smothered in crumbled Impossible meat adorned with caramelized onions, slivered scallions, pink pickled onions, and a drizzle of herby vegan ranch.
The Darma Bites (10-pieces for $9.95) are easily a meal alone. Two-bite nuggets are composed similarly to the ancient grains patty but with a bit of vegan butter and flour to bind them. They are served with a choice of sauce, like sweet gochujang chili or vegan buffalo.