It’s my opinion that restaurants are extremely important, if not the most important, in making a shift toward a kinder and more sustainable world. Restaurants are the key to educating and normalizing the consumption of plant-based products, something a packaged food product on the shelf at the supermarket simply can’t do.
After a plant-based diet drastically changed my health and life, I dropped everything I was doing and set out to positively impact the health of others and of the planet.
I’m a young entrepreneur, but a fairly seasoned one. I’ve stared and sold a tech company, started a craft brewery, published a book, built an online health and wellness brand, and more. When I set my mind to something, I make it happen. I could have chosen to start any type of business in the plant-based space. Plant-based meats, clean meat, plant-based cheeses, plant-based milks, plant-based fish, plant-based gelatin, vegan leather, vegan clothing, a craft beer brand with a vegan twist… you get the point. Despite seeing the millions that were pouring into companies like Beyond Meat, Impossible Foods, Daiya, and others in these categories, I chose none of them. Instead, I chose restaurants. Let me explain…
I’ve been plant-based for 4 years. Like many others who have adopted this lifestyle, I want to show others the way. I want to give others the power to take their health into their own hands. I want people to understand the cruelty behind the foods they consume and the damage those foods do to a planet already in peril. After a couple years of writing, podcasting, and attempting to educate, however, I became aware of the reality - 99.9% of people just don’t give a sh*t. People will not change their habits if it is inconvenient and if they have to sacrifice any of the things they enjoy like certain tastes, nights out with friends and family, holiday traditions, etc. That’s just the cold hard truth. I’ve come to grips with that.
Will I keep educating? Of course. But I have shifted from trying to make people change to changing the environment in which people live. I believe that is the path to making the most positive impact on the world. It’s important to note, positive impact is my goal… but I’m also not Mother Teresa. I want to make money and have success just like the next guy. It just so happens that I’m able to do both. If you follow the food industry, you know the future is plant-based.
So why restaurants?
“It’s a tough business, Pat.”
“Hard to scale.”
“A lot of unpredictability.”
I hear the above all the time. I get it and I even agree with most of those points. My answer? Are there billion dollar restaurant brands in the US right now? Yes. So why can’t I?
But the real reason I chose restaurants is, I believe they have a far greater impact on culture and human behavior. For example, Starbucks’ coffee did not change our culture, rather the environment in which the coffee was consumed changed our culture. It’s now normal to order a soy latte at any coffee shop in the US (outside of maybe Dunkin’… for my fellow Bostonians) thanks to the culture that Starbucks started. They made it cool, they made it hip, and they made it normal.
Take a look at all the hot plant-based packaged food brands right now. First to mind, for me, is Oatly. You would think it’s like an antedate for some catastrophic plague. It sells out at your local Whole Foods before the store employees even finish stocking it on the shelf. Why? Because everyone’s favorite hip local coffee shop has been slinging Oatly lattes for the past year or two. The hip coffee shop is where the consumer became aware of it, where they had the courage to try the weird new plant milk, and where they were educated by a barista on what the hell it was. The awareness, the demand began in a coffee shop.
Take Beyond Meat as another example. I’d argue 9 out of every 10 customers that buy Beyond packaged products first tried the Beyond Burger at the cool, forward thinking restaurant. Like Oatly, the customer was introduced to the product at a restaurant and educated by a server.
It’s my opinion that restaurants are extremely important, if not the most important, in making a shift toward a kinder and more sustainable world. Restaurants are the key to educating and normalizing the consumption of plant-based products, something a packaged food product on the shelf at the supermarket simply can’t do. It’s the plant-based restaurant that opens in a neighborhood that gets residents asking “what’s that?” It’s not the fact that their local grocer subtly started carrying Beyond products. Restaurants have the opportunity to make eating plant-based cool, to change the culture around what and how we eat. It is the environment that changes human behavior, not the food product itself.
“But Pat, let’s talk business. The opportunity is in the disruption of the meat and dairy industries. Those are nearly trillion dollar industries. If we carve out X% of those industries, we have a unicorn on our hands.”
If I open 500 restaurants that on average bring in $2M annually, that is a billion dollar business. What’s the difference?
In conclusion, I am ecstatic about the amount of money going into plant-based packaged food products and alternatives to animal products of all kinds. It is spectacular. But, I encourage those who refuse to back restaurants to reconsider. After all, we share the same mission.
Pat - firstname.lastname@example.org
Owner, Rewild Group - https://eatrewild.com/