The days of boring salads are officially behind us with exciting vegan restaurant news cropping up every week. Milk and cookies is a classic pairing that is not just for Santa anymore thanks to a collaboration between Oatly and Insomnia Cookies. 

Vice Burger just opened in Fort Worth, TX where plant-based takes on fast food is the name of the game, including its signature burger which locals have already dubbed a vegan Big Mac. 

And Chipotle’s founder and former CEO Steve Ells, is slated to open Kernel—where your meatless burgers and plant-based chicken sandwiches will be made by robots. Read on for more. 

1Meatless burgers made by robots

Steve Ells, the founder and former CEO of Chipotle, is embarking on a new restaurant venture called Kernel, which is slated to open in early 2024 in Manhattan, NY. 

Kernel will feature a vegetarian menu in a fast-casual setting, similar in price to Chipotle. What’s unique to Kernel, however, is its reliance on automation, with robots handling most kitchen tasks, supported by a minimal human crew, a move partly inspired by Chipotle’s historical food safety issues.

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Ells has invested $10 million in Kernel, with an additional $36 million from other investors. The company, led by president Stephen Goldstein, will use automation for tasks like warming buns and moving pans, while human staff will finalize dishes.

Ells’ first project since leaving Chipotle in 2020, Kernel aims to eventually establish 15 locations in New York City. This approach follows a broader trend of automation in the food industry, as seen with companies such as Sweetgreen and Botbar Coffee.

This shift in the fast-food industry reflects rising costs and labor shortages. Kernel plans to use automation savings for higher wages and better benefits for its employees.

For its part, Chipotle has been an early adopter of meatless proteins and added tofu-based sofritas in 2015. Since Ells’ departure, the chain also explored other plant-based options, including vegan chorizo it developed in-house. 

Last year, Chipotle—through its venture arm Cultivate Next—also helped Meati Foods raise $150 million in a series C funding round to support the growth of its mushroom root-based vegan meats. 

2Vegan milkshakes in Milan

This month, vegan chain Neat Burger opened its newest location in Milan, Italy. Backed by high-profile investors such as Lewis Hamilton and Leonardo DiCaprio, Neat Burger’s entry into the country follows its successful establishment of 10 outlets in various global locations including London’s Oxford Circus, New York’s Nolita neighborhood, and Dubai Mall in the UAE. 

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“Disrupting our food system with sustainable alternatives is one of the key ways we can make a real difference in reducing global emissions,” DiCaprio previously said in a statement. 

“Neat Burger’s pioneering approach to alternative proteins is a great example of the type of solutions we need moving forward,” DiCaprio said.

The Italian outlet is situated in the sizable Merlata Bloom shopping center, located between the former Expo area and Cascina Merlata.

In line with its other branches, the Milan shop will serve a variety of traditional fast-food items, such as plant-based burgers, chicken sandwiches, nuggets, fries, wraps, burritos, milkshakes, and more.

A unique aspect of the Milan branch, similar to the Dubai location, is the introduction of table service, a feature not present in the London and US restaurants.

Along with serving exclusively plant-based foods, the Milan outlet will emphasize eco-friendly practices, including the use of plastic-free packaging and pledges to plant a tree for every sandwich sold.

3Late-night milk and cookies

Late-night bakery Insomnia Cookies and vegan company Oatly are proving that milk and cookies are not just for Santa anymore with a collaboration that gives everyone a chance to savor the classic combo. 

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This collaboration introduces Oatly’s Original and Chocolate Oatmilk to Insomnia Cookies locations across the United States, bringing a non-dairy version of the iconic pairing of milk and cookies to all 245 outlets of the bakery chain. 

“Among the most quintessential of food combinations has to be milk and cookies,” Mike Messersmith, President of Oatly North America, said in a statement. 

“Insomnia Cookies has built an amazing brand and reputation for providing fantastic cookies and more, whenever people are craving them, and we know that our Oatly oatmilks will be a perfect complement to any order,” he said.

Insomnia Cookies, a brand celebrated for its convenient late-night warm cookie delivery service, has continually expanded its menu to cater to diverse dietary needs. In November 2020, Insomnia Cookies launched a vegan cookie line to commemorate World Vegan Day, introducing flavors such as Chocolate Chunk, Double Chocolate Chunk, and Birthday Cake. 

“We have been working hard in our Cookielab on delicious vegan cookies that all Insomniacs can enjoy,” Tom Carusona, CMO of Insomnia Cookies, told VegNews at the time. “World Vegan Day is the perfect day to introduce these amazing new cookies and officially kick off our vegan line, which has more exciting creations to come.”

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Customers can now enjoy Oatly’s oat milk in 11-ounce single-serve sizes alongside Insomnia’s range of cookies, including their vegan options, either in-store or through online ordering platforms. 

4Vegan “Big Macs” in Texas

Vice Burger, a novel plant-based eatery founded by Charlsye Lewis, is redefining the fast-food landscape in Fort Worth, TX. The catchphrase “have your vice and eat it, too” encapsulates the essence of Vice Burger, offering a vegan twist on classic fast-food favorites in a cozy setting with a service bar, countertop seating, and a side patio that accommodates 30 to 40 people.

Vice Burger features a concise vegan fast-food menu. The selection includes burgers with a choice of Impossible or Beyond patties, the Vice Dog made from Field Roast plant-based Stadium dogs, and a range of toppings such as sauerkraut, roasted red peppers, and relish. 

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According to local media outlet Fort Worth Magazine, the eatery’s signature Vice Burger tastes just like a vegan version of McDonald’s iconic Big Mac but without any of the beef. 

Additionally, the menu offers a vegan chicken sandwich with Vertage pepper jack cheese, hand-cut fries, milkshakes, and a kid-friendly selection of nuggets and grilled cheese sandwiches. 

Founder Lewis pivoted to Vice Burger from Boulevard of Greens, which offered fresh smoothies, cold-pressed juices, and coffee drinks from Roots Coffee House (also owned by Lewis). The concept struggled to attract the necessary volume of business and the switch to Vice Burger reflects a strategic move to cater to a broader audience with more fun and accessible food options.

5Chocolate that’s a win-win for all

For a sweet finish this week, a new ethical alternative to conventional chocolate has become available to bakeries, restaurants, and confectionery groups. The mission of confection company Wnwn Food Labs is to create a more equitable global chocolate industry by removing its reliance on unethical portions of its supply chain such as mass cocoa production (often tied to child labor) and dairy. 

Available in both dark and plant-based milk chocolate styles, Wnwn’s chocolates are designed for ease of use in various culinary applications, coming in user-friendly formats like 1.5-kilogram pouches and larger 10-kilogram packs.

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Founders Johnny Drain and Ahrum Pak utilize fermentation to turn ingredients such as carob and barley into a chocolate substitute that mimics the taste and texture of real chocolate. This approach not only addresses ethical concerns but also significantly reduces carbon emissions compared to traditional chocolate production.

Wnwn’s alternative chocolate products are engineered to behave similarly to conventional chocolate in terms of melting, texture, and viscosity, making them a straightforward substitute in various recipes. 

The company is entering the B2B channel—where its products can catalyze industry-wide change—at a time when the chocolate industry is projected to grow to $312 billion by 2030.

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