September/October 2019

Packing a Plant-Based Punch

Whether it’s to meet dietary restrictions, as part of a lifestyle change, or due to environmental concerns, more and more Canadians are seeking out vegan-friendly food options. As a result, plant-based proteins are popping up on restaurant menus from coast to coast.

Some have been serving plant-based products for years, while others are new to the alternative protein game, but all five of the food franchises featured here have found their own way to showcase plant-based products. Read on to learn more!


For Quesada founder Steve Gill, the challenge with featuring a plant-based product wasn’t getting customers into his franchise to try it, it was keeping up with demand. That’s because Quesada is featuring California-based Beyond Meat in its Beyond Burrito.

“We ran out of product after two-and-a-half weeks with the first order because of high demand. It was a bit of a struggle, but now it’s back full time,” says Gill.

Quesada, with its traditional Mexican fare, was started by Gill in 2004. In addition to the Beyond Burrito, the franchise also features other plant-based offerings like oven-roasted veggies, black bean burritos, and refried bean burritos.

Gill says customer response has been amazing. “We had a six per cent increase in customer counts in just a few weeks. Initial publicity brought in a lot of people, but now sustained it’s probably three-to-four per cent. Our combined plant-based sales went from 11 to 12 per cent up to 17 per cent. We were amazed to see the reaction.”

Quesada has 120 open restaurants, including three corporate locations, with franchises in every province except for Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island.

A big benefit for franchisees is a lower build-out cost. “There’s a lot of work, but it’s well organized and straightforward. We keep the costs down,” explains Gill.

After they sign on, there’s a combination of online training and two weeks of in-restaurant training, and some regional training or training at head office in Ontario. Prior to opening, there are additional business training days, along with on-site support for the opening period.

As for the plant-based craze, Gill says, “It seems like a societal change, not a fringe thing. It used to be about personal diet – now it’s about the environment. I think that’s the biggest driver for non-vegetarians.”

Sunset Grill

If you’re a regular at Sunset Grill, as are so many breakfast lovers, you may have noticed a new item on the menu last December: the Southwest Vegan Breakfast Hash dish. A new menu legend also now points customers to ‘Vegan’ and ‘Trainer’s Choice’ options to guide patrons to healthier choices.

“We decided to incorporate vegan-friendly options into our menu to better accommodate our guests,” explains Vanessa Divers, Manager – Digital Marketing & Communications for Sunset Grill Restaurants Ltd. “Our guests asked, and we listened. Breakfast is often a communal experience and we wanted to be inclusive.”

“The customer response has been incredibly positive, and we may be considering other vegan dishes in the future as a result of how well this initiative has been received by our guests,” adds Divers.

Sunset Grill was opened by Angelo Christou in 1985 in the Beaches area of Toronto, and started franchising in 2003. “Our concept is simple. We’re an owner-operated California-inspired breakfast restaurant with a warm and friendly community atmosphere,” explains Divers.

“We’re consistently voted ‘Best Breakfast’ by our guests in Readers’ Choice Awards and have been awarded for our franchise model, including Tops in Hospitality Award in recognition of the Greatest Percentage Increase – Restaurant Category, awarded by Foodservice and Hospitality Magazine.”

Owner-operators enjoy a healthy work-life balance with the franchise’s one-shift operation model (7 a.m. to 4 p.m.) and high profit margins (up to 20 per cent on net sales). Beyond that, Divers says franchisees benefit from the company’s specialization in the marketplace, streamlined operations, a comprehensive training program, low staff turnover, exclusive territory, national and localized advertising campaigns, and ongoing professional guidance.

Sunset Grill has 85 open locations across Ontario and Alberta, with plans to expand across the country, particularly to eastern Canada and select markets in the United States.

Vera’s Burger Shack

While the plant-based food craze is hitting quick service restaurants across the country, Vera’s Burger Shack, based in British Columbia, has been serving up its tasty plant-based veggie burger for the past 17 years. Vera’s co-owner Gerald Tritt says the burger is custom-made by a Canadian company, with various tweaks made over the years. He adds that it keeps winning ‘Best Veggie Burger’ accolades, and is vegan, gluten-free, non-GMO, and made without pea protein, so it’s safe for those with severe nut allergies.

“We’ve always had a place for a plant-based burger. It’s certainly more prevalent now, but we think it compares very favourably to the Beyond Burger. At half the fat and 40 per cent of the calories, it may even be a healthier option,” says Tritt.

Vera’s Burger Shack was started by Vera and Frank Hochfelder in 1977 in West Vancouver. Tritt took over the company in 2000 and started franchising in 2004, now with 13 locations across the country. “What makes us unique is we make everything ourselves. Our patties are crafted by hand from fresh beef every day in-store, we have fresh-cut double-fried fries, top-tier ingredients, and we source our own beef.”

Vera’s Burger Shack has won Best Burger 14 times and caters to a broad array of burger buffs. Tritt says their franchises do well everywhere, from strip malls to downtown Vancouver. He says that Vera’s isn’t the cheapest in the marketplace, nor does it aspire to be. “Vera’s Burger Shack has and always will provide fresh, quality burgers cooked to perfection by passionate people who love what they do.”

Tritt says a huge benefit to franchisees is that it’s easy to take pride in the quality of the product, as Vera’s selects the best, freshest ingredients. Another benefit is, “We listen to our franchisees – we’re available for them. You call us at 10 p.m. on a Friday night, chances are it’s me or my partner answering the phone.”

The franchise offers three weeks of in-store training and one week at the franchisee’s location. Opportunities are available for new franchise locations in key locations in British Columbia and new markets in Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, and Ontario.

Tritt says the company may add more plant-based products down the road. And why not? Customers have been loving their plant-based burger for 17 years.

White Spot and Triple O’s

If you lived in the Vancouver area in the last 90 years, there’s a good chance you’ve tucked into a tasty meal at White Spot, a family casual restaurant that serves breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Opened in 1928, Cathy Tostenson, vice president of marketing and menu development proudly says, “We’re 90 years young, which makes us unique in the food service category. We’re a very successful brand, but we’re constantly looking at ways to continue to grow our brand amongst changing market dynamics and demographics.”

That’s why the Avocado Beyond Burger launched at White Spot on April 15, and the Mushroom Avocado Beyond Burger on May 6 at Triple O’s – the premium fast casual franchise also owned by White Spot. Both burgers feature the Beyond Meat product.

“They’ve been hugely successful,” explains Tostenson. “The feedback from our guests has been very positive.”

White Spot has 65 locations, with three in Alberta and 62 in British Columbia. Triple O’s has 69 locations, with 62 in British Columbia, one in Alberta, five in Hong Kong, and one in Macau. The franchise is considering moving to eastern Canada.

White Spot started franchising in 1993 in Vernon, British Columbia. Triple O’s was launched in 1997, and the first franchise was in Rogers Arena in British Columbia.

Tostenson says in addition to hands-on training and online learning management systems, the system has a comprehensive site selection process to ensure operators are successful.

Research has shown that “Millennials are very passionate about the environment, and boomers are more interested in their health,” notes Tostenson. “It depends on the demographic, but there has been so much attention with the Beyond Meat patty coming into Canada. There’s been a lot of awareness and excitement; people are curious and want to try it for themselves.”

And what better place than to try it than at a place that’s been going 90-plus years strong!

By Georgie Binks 

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