Nestled into New York’s Nolita neighborhood is Neat Burger, a plant-based concept spearheaded by founder and CEO Zack Bishti. While this is Neat Burger’s first U.S. location, the vegan fast-food chain has nine other outposts across the pond in both the U.K. and Dubai.
The brand started in 2019 when Bishti noticed a considerable lack of accessible options for vegans. He was not impressed with the narrow idea of salads and bean burgers—so he sought to change it.
“We’re driven on the principle of making plant-based foods accessible for everyone,” Bishti says. “This means accessible products, accessible pricing, and providing things that we know feel familiar.”
This idea of familiarity, to Bishti, is the biggest draw for bringing in hesitant customers. This means creating flavors customers recognize and eliminating the feeling of compromise.
“Everyone has their own drivers for the reasons they want to give up meat. For some it is animal welfare, for others it is their own health and the environment,” Bishti explains. “We like to think we Trojan horse all those things [sustainability and flavor] so there’s no trade-off.”
Neat Burger has notable figures backing it, such as racing champion Lewis Hamilton and Leonardo DiCaprio, who have invested in the brand’s ability to “disrupt [the] food system with sustainable alternatives.”
The concept’s first dive into the U.S. began in 2022 with a pop-up location in New York. After more than six months of success, plans were made to break ground with the Nolita restaurant. Bishti was ready to become a permanent fixture in the community.
“To us, New York is the gateway to the U.S.,” Bishti says. “New Yorkers have particularly good taste and strong opinions, so it felt like an effective way to kick things off. We chose Nolita because we wanted a community store.”
The Nolita restaurant is set up similarly to other Neat Burger locations, with a cozy fast-casual layout. Guests are greeted into the store by staff and receive their orders promptly. Bishti points out that workers in the U.S. “do not even need to try to be hospitable. [They] have the gift of making people feel at home and welcome. So, while there is not table service, there is definitely [customer] service.”
Neat Burger doesn’t want to just rely on its food and its service—the brand also places heavy emphasis on customer experience. Store layouts, food packaging, staff uniforms, and photo ops are all tailored to guest tastes. As the vegan market expands, the brand differentiates itself by keeping close to the consumer.
“We want to capture a moment and a memory when you come into our stores,” Bishti explains. “Ninety percent of my energy is spent listening to what our customers say. I will take that information and we will move very quickly … We obsess over customer feedback and the customer’s experience.”
Bishti talks to general managers regularly in hopes of improving the feedback loop between the brand and customers. Coupled with analytical data, this on-the-ground research is priceless for Neat Burger’s team.
Looking into the future, Bishti expects the demand for plant-based foods to keep growing. Part of appealing to a broader customer base is demystifying ingredients, which Neat Burger does by reducing the amount in its products.
He is also seeing monumental shifts in the nature of the plant-based market, which will have a major impact on expenses down the road.
“Plant-based proteins are deflationary in nature, which sounds counterintuitive, but we’re seeing infrastructure being built out and the cost of products coming down, which will make everything more accessible,” Bishti comments. “This is not going away. The products are getting better, and the prices are getting far more reasonable.”
While there are plans in the works for an additional location in Italy, Bishti is placing his energy and focus on New York for the next two years. The real estate strategy is opening stores that can “cover seven-day trade and multiple-day parts.”
As Neat Burger continues to span across New York, the concept is aiming to shift the environment for fast-casual businesses through a smaller footprint. This means more takeout, more delivery, and an emphasis on community-led stores. Over the next two years, the brand is looking to expand throughout the Big Apple with a combination of franchisee and company-owned locations.
“We do consider ourselves a frontier brand,” Bishti says. “We want to have a hybrid model of brick and mortar and darkened delivery kitchens. It is capital efficient, a wonderful way to scale … and it is a fantastic model for growth if you want to get your product to as many consumers’ hands as possible.”