When Healthy Meets Fast Food

by Julie Barr on September 13, 2017 · 2 comments

in Alumni Life

Healthy and fast food are two terms that seem in conflict. Add delicious in there and it seems downright impossible. But that’s exactly what T.K. Pillan ’90 set out to create when he started Veggie Grill in 2006, a 100 percent plant-based, fast casual restaurant that has become the largest vegan/vegetarian restaurant company in the U.S.

Although Pillan started his career in computer systems after graduating with a degree in mechanical engineering, he decided to start a business that helped to tackle health and wellness. “I saw the issues in the country around obesity, diabetes, cancer, healthcare costs, dependence on pharma, and I wanted to create a business that would help be part of the solution. Personally, I was struggling to go out and find healthy, delicious, convenient food.”

The Veggie Grill Beyond Burger (Burger by Beyond Meat, American “cheese,” grilled onions, house made sauce, tomato, iceberg lettuce, sesame buns).

In his quest to discover what convenient, healthier eating could look like, Pillan first discovered that the niche vegan restaurants in his surrounding communities in California actually had tasty food. Then he researched and personally proved the health benefits of plant-based eating by changing his own diet. After deciding that plant-based fast food could be a great way to achieve a healthier lifestyle, Pillan set out to package it in a fun, friendly, approachable way so that it would appeal to all audiences—vegan or not.

“I developed a passion for creating a brand and concept that would take vegan food from the niche to the mainstream,” says Pillan. “We aren’t suggesting everyone has to be a vegan. What we’re doing is helping accelerate the shift in people’s view towards plant-focused eating by making it delicious and enjoyable. We chose to use the term veggie consciously. For us, it’s all about celebrating the vegetable. And no one can argue that they shouldn’t be eating more veggies!”

Veggie Grill’s mainstream approach to vegan food paid off. The company—which was named one of the 25 Most Innovative Consumer Brands of 2016 by Forbes—now has 28 locations and plans to double in the next couple of years, including two planned for Chicago by the end of the year. Don’t worry, Bostonians, he’s looking here too!

The co-founder of Veggie Grill has now passed many day-to-day activities off to the leadership team that he helped build and spends a large majority of his time trying to help other like-minded companies get off the ground through Powerplant Ventures. As co-founder and managing partner, he is helping the fund identify and support other companies that are driven to “leverage the power of plants to deliver better nutrition in more sustainable and ethical ways,” says Pillan. “The whole macro thesis around Powerplant is to help reform our food system and help companies that are leveraging the power plants to do so.”

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Emil Friedman September 13, 2017 at 3:40 pm

Some of Veggie Grill’s location might increase their customer base by obtaining kosher certification.


Murray Passarieu September 27, 2017 at 7:08 pm

Pretty sure vegan food is automatically kosher.


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