Next Level Burger announced Thursday that it acquired Veggie Grill, creating the largest plant-based-only restaurant platform in the U.S.
The two fast casuals have 27 units combined, ranging from coast to coast. Next Level Burger co-founder Matt de Gruyter will become CEO of both chains. The executive intends to make quick changes to Veggie Grill, which shuttered a dozen units in 2023. This includes a move to Next Level Burger’s sourcing of non-GMO ingredients and all-organic produce.
“We’re not just writing a new chapter for Veggie Grill—we’re starting a new book,” de Gruyter said in a statement. “Veggie Grill by Next Level will mean all sorts of changes: organic produce, non-GMO ingredients and ensuring living wages for our many team members across the country. Everything guests know and love about Veggie Grill is about to be taken to the Next Level, but know that the fan favorites aren’t going anywhere.”
Next Level Burger purchased Veggie Grill from VegInvest, an investment fund that saved the company from bankruptcy. VegInvest is now part of Next Level Burger as a shareholder and partner.
After closing 40 percent of the footprint during the summer of 2023, Veggie Grill co-founder T.K. Pillan told QSR that the move reflected a need for fast casuals to rethink their location strategy amid changing consumer behaviors. The chain launched a franchising initiative, but the efforts were put on hold to optimize the company.
“We signed most of our leases pre-COVID when we had a large office lunch business,” Pillan said last year. “That office lunch trade is a fraction of what it used to be, so a group of our restaurants weren’t worth moving forward with. Large dining rooms in office-centered markets just don’t make sense anymore. It’s about resizing the box economics based on this new world.”
The more pressing plan was menu development. In October, the chain announced “Veggie Grill 2.0,” a culinary expansion featuring six new entrées—Sesame Tofu Supergreens, Caesar Crunch Salad, Caesar Crunch Wrap, Ranchero Bean Fiesta, Pesto Chick’n Parm Sandwich, and Truffle Mac + Cheese. The brand also upgraded its popular All Hail Kale salad and added the Banh Mi Sandwich and Sunrise Kimchi Burger to the permanent menu.
Veggie Grill’s 17 stores span California, Oregon, Washington, and Massachusetts.
Next Level Burger’s acquisition comes after the company fundraised $20 million in 2022. Existing investors include an organic and natural foods partner and early-stage vegan investors Alex Payne and Nicole Brodeur. The fast casual has 10 restaurants across Oregon, Washington, Texas, California, Colorado, and New York. A majority of its locations are based inside Whole Foods. Next Level Burger claims to be America’s first 100 percent plant-based-only burger chain.