8 Questions with Veggie Grill Co-Founder T.K. Pillan
VegNews sits down with one of the masterminds behind the beloved vegan chain, and talks about running a restaurant, his favorite dishes, and in-the-know menu hacks.
If you’re anything like me, you think owning a restaurant would be the greatest thing ever, mostly because you could eat as much as you want for free. Turns out, I’m not totally wrong with this assessment, as recently I spoke to Veggie Grill co-founder T.K. Pillan and discovered he visits one of his plant-based eateries at least five times a week. I wanted to know more about Pillan’s relationship to Veggie Grill, not as a businessman but as a customer. Here are his thoughts on what it means to own a restaurant that serves all of your favorite foods.
VegNews: How often do you eat at Veggie Grill as a regular customer?
T.K. Pillan: Probably five to seven times a week on average. I’m glad I live near one! It really is my go-to place to satisfy my need for both satisfaction and nutrition. They know me at my local LA locations, but when I venture to Northern California and other markets, I am able to dine like a secret shopper.
VN: Is it even possible for you to pick your favorite Veggie Grill meal?
TKP: It’s like picking your favorite kids.
VN: Does your order depend on your mood or do you always order the same thing?
TKP: My stock answer to everybody who asks me what my favorite Veggie Grill menu items are is that I work my way around the menu. Basically, I have three different mindsets and occasions when eating Veggie Grill: 1. I’ve had my workout, and I’m getting ready to kick back and watch the game, so I’ll order a VG Beyond Burger with crispy fries or Buffalo Bomber wrap-style with sweetheart fries, and top it off with a Chocolate Chip Cookie or Pudding Parfait if I am feeling extra celebratory. If I’m not ready to indulge as much, I skip the dessert and/or sub steamin’ Kale for the Fries. It’s all relative, but compared to my pre-vegan game-watching meals, this is pretty healthy. 2. I need a mid-day healthy power-up, so I order a Quinoa Power Salad or All Hail Kale, both with tempeh. Maybe it's just me, but I feel like I get an antioxidant buzz afterwards! 3. If I need after-work nourishment, I order a Masala, Sonoran, or Seoul Bowl, because I want whole-foods nutrition with a big dose of satisfaction. Don’t tell the Sante Fe or Kale Caesar.
VN: What about your family? Do they have favorites, and do you agree with their choices?
TKP: Well, they usually don’t agree with me on most things! But my teenage daughter and I both agree on the VG Beyond Burger as a favorite. My younger daughter sticks to the Mac-n-Cheese, and my wife has a preference for the salads and bowls.
VN: Veggie Grill also has seasonal menus. I'm guessing you try those meals before they are available, but what about when you are a customer?
TKP: Yes, definitely. Just like for many of our guests, the seasonal items add some nice variety and excitement. I enjoy working my way through them and then deciding which ones makes it into my permanent rotation.
VN: Recently, you added the Beyond Burger to the menu. How often do you order this?
TKP: At least once a week, if not more and almost always on weekends when I am watching a game. That paired with a kombucha is how I kick back and relax.
VN: People often think of chain restaurants as not being as good as mom-and-pops, which is one reason people are surprised when I tell them Veggie Grill is one of my favorite places to eat. Also, I think your Savory Kale Caesar is one of the best Caesars in existence. Have you thought about selling the dressing at grocery stores?
TKP: To address your first comment, I think it all comes down to the chain and what they are committed to. We’re committed to serving freshly prepared, bold, and craveable veggie-positive food. Our number-one job is to make sure we deliver on that on a consistent basis while we continue to grow, and I think our team—led by our CEO Steve Heeley—is doing a great job. On the Caesar, we’ve been asked, and we’ve thought about packaging and selling our dressings and other items, but we’ve decided that would take our attention away from job one. Running restaurants is hard enough! So, we can’t bring the dressings to your refrigerator, but you know where to get them when you need to satisfy a craving. And trust us—we are working our hardest to make sure we can bring Veggie Grill to as many locations as we can across the country.
VN: According to the internet, people love hacking restaurants. Are there any Veggie Grill hacks and if so, what are they?
TKP: Absolutely. It’s best to check our social media pages for the latest and greatest, but here are a few that have been recommended to me: Mac-n-Cheese on top of a VG Beyond Burger, “Frachos” (Crispy Fries with Mondo Nacho fixings), and adding Mac-n-Cheese to the Southern Spicy Fried Chickin’ plate.
Ryan Ritchie is VegNews' digital editor who orders the Kale Caesar every time he goes to Veggie Grill.
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