FOUNDER: José Andrés
COO: Eric Martino
HEADQUARTERS: Washington, D.C.
YEAR STARTED: 2015
ANNUAL SALES: $3.5 million
TOTAL UNITS: 6
FRANCHISE UNITS: 0
As the brainchild of legendary chef and restaurateur José Andrés, Beefsteak seeks to break the custom of viewing vegetables as a side dish and instead make vegetables the star. “Vegetables are the future of culinary,” says Eric Martino, COO of FastGood Concepts, which oversees Beefsteak and is a subsidiary of Andrés’ ThinkFoodGroup.
Walking into one of Beefsteak’s four Washington, D.C., shops or its University of Pennsylvania location in Philadelphia, guests are greeted by all things veggie. “With the cartoon characters that are on the wall, they are immersed in this fun, exciting, playful vegetable universe,” Martino says. The tile color mimics that of soil; the ceilings and walls are blue with floating white crate clouds. There are images of farmland and vegetables on the walls. “You get this really nice open-air feeling, like you’re in a great marketplace,” Martino adds.
Guests are then presented with a variety of playfully named veggie bowls and salads, like the Hokey Beet Poke bowl and the Oh S’Napa salad. Customers can also create their own masterpieces, choosing from among 15 vegetables, a grain or green base, Andrés’ sauces, and toppings like salt-cured salmon, crispy onions, and cucumber salad.
It’s no surprise that Beefsteak is a very chef-driven concept; Martino points out that the sauces are the same as those offered at Andrés’ full-service restaurants.
To go fast casual, however, Beefsteak needed to employ science, too. With 15 vegetables on the line, the team had to figure out a way to cook them all together in 90 seconds. As it turned out, the solution was all in the cut. “A carrot is a different density than a mushroom and a potato, so how we cut and slice them is important,” Martino says. “If they are all put together in one bowl, we have to make sure they are the perfect consistency when they come out of a water bath.”
One of Beefsteak’s most popular dishes is the Frida Kale bowl with a rice base balanced with kale, sweet potato, black bean sauce, and spicy tomato sauce, topped with scallions, corn nuts, cherry tomatoes, pumpkin seeds, cranberries, and lemon honey dressing.
Another Instagrammable favorite is the seasonal Beefsteak Burger, which Martino says everyone goes crazy over. The vegan burger is composed of a large beefsteak tomato slice on a brioche bun with vegan herb mayo.
But many customers, including Martino, choose to build their own bowls. “My team makes fun of me; they call it the ‘Brotein Bowl’ because I work out a lot,” he says. “It’s usually broccoli, edamame, spinach, tomato sauce, hard-boiled eggs, and a double dose of chicken sausage with some mozzarella cheese.”
The quality and conscientious curation isn’t limited to the end product; Beefsteak’s sourcing involves a lot of care, too. Take the sunflower shoots offered on the Curry Lentil bowl, for instance. The restaurant buys the shoots from Little Wild Things City Farm, which sources its soil from Veteran Compost, a business that employs veterans and their family members to turn food scraps into organic compost. Veteran Compost, in turn, picks up vegetable scraps from the restaurants to use in the compost.
“That turns into the soil that is bought by the farm that we then purchase our sunflower shoots from. It’s full circle,” McHenry says. “That is a microcosm of what we are trying to do with all these other strategic partnerships.”
The Beefsteak team even boasts a chief of produce, Bennett Haynes, who works with farmers and local vendors to achieve seasonality. Nevertheless, Martino says it’s how staff interact with guests that really sets Beefsteak apart from other health-driven bowl and salad concepts.
Achieving this goal in a growing brand, however, involves care in hiring and training. Martino says it’s not only key to select the right talent, but to also make sure those team members want to be a part of something that is rewarding and impactful to the community.
But even with a most impressive chef pedigree and farm-to-table pipeline, what sets Beefsteak apart from other health-driven concepts is how the brand engages with its guests, Martino says. “We want to take a four-minute transaction and make it the most memorable four minutes of someone’s day,” he says “We don’t want to make people feel like they’re a transaction, but [rather] we want to be relatable to them. We want to make sure we can be the highlight of the day.”
As of now, Beefsteak is focusing on partnership licensing goals and opening up new locations, including its first in a hospital; the Cleveland Clinic location, which opened in mid-May.
Looking to the future, Martino is excited to “vegetate” even more consumers. After all, the brand attracts a diverse demographic: everyone from students and professionals to endurance athletes and those simply aspiring to eat healthier.
And while Beefsteak is vegetable-centric, Martino wants people to know it isn’t a vegetarian restaurant; there are meats available on the menu. “Beefsteak is food for your soul,” he says. “It puts back the nutrients that you need that life can take out of you every day. It makes you feel good.”