Project Pollo, a quickly growing plant-based chain, announced Tuesday that it received a growth investment from former McDonald's CEO Steve Easterbrook.
The capital injection closed a seed funding round for the Texas fast casual, which has opened roughly 12 restaurants in two years. This isn't the first meat alternative investment for Easterbrook, who is serving as a direct adviser to CEO and founder Lucas Bradbury. In July, it was announced that he's backing U.K.-based Clean Kitchen Club, a plant-based fast-food startup operated by social media influencer Mikey Pearce and reality star Verity Bowditch.
“I see a future in plant-based consumption," Easterbrook said in a statement. "By taking the opportunity to partner with some emerging leaders like Project Pollo, we are able to learn from global experiences and relate that to real-time solutions for the brand.”
The investment comes a year after Bradbury went on ABC's Shark Tank in hopes of striking a deal. While the judges loved the product—Kevin O'Leary even called it the best fake chicken sandwich he's ever had—they felt the chain was growing too fast and valued too high at $50 million. Bradbury walked away without an agreement, but the belief in his concept remained. All stores are in Texas, but out-of-state openings are within reach in Boulder, Colorado; Tempe, Arizona; and Las Vegas.
Not only does Project Pollo plan to enter more markets next year (Nashville, Atlanta, Tampa, and Miami), it also wants to begin franchise expansion. Bradbury said the fast casual received hundreds of inquiries because of the Shark Tank publicity. The company is currently working on its FDD and hired a vice president of corporate operations and a vice president of franchise operations. The CEO pointed to Florida, New Jersey, Maryland, and Philadelphia as potential franchise destinations. He said the company has enough human capital to open two company-owned units and 1.5 franchises per month, a level he believes Project Pollo will reach at the end of 2023.
The ultimate goal is 100 units by 2025.
“This isn't a play to try to get the whole world to eat healthier,” Bradbury said. “This is a play to get people to eat more sustainable. And if you get a grilled chicken sandwich at our location, there's nothing wrong with that high fiber, high protein, low fat—it's a great product. Honestly, it's a great product. I would stand by it. I feed it to my son, feed it to my family. It's not something that I talk about and just don't support. I actually do, because I think it's an exceptional product.”
Easterbrook served as McDonald's CEO from March 2015 until November 2019, when he was terminated for an inappropriate relationship with an employee. Several months after the separation, McDonald's filed a lawsuit to recoup Easterbrook's severance after the company discovered he allegedly hid multiple sexual relationships. The two sides settled in December 2021, with the burger chain clawing back $105 million.