Malls used to be all the rage but have lost much of their appeal with the digitization of shopping. Can exciting vegan options bring new life to these retail centers? Chef Matthew Kenney is betting on it with new upscale restaurants at Los Angeles-area malls. 

Oleada is a concept Kenney first opened under his Matthew Kenney Cuisine (MKC) in Buenos Aires, Argentina in 2020, where the dishes are inspired by a wave (or “oleada” in Spanish) of Latin American cuisine. The menu features plant-based takes on ceviche, burritos, dairy-free queso, along with larger format plates with a heavy emphasis on vegetables.  

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This fall, the concept will open its second location at the Beverly Center, a massive 883,000-square-foot mall that sits on the border of West Hollywood and Beverly Hills. Oleada will occupy an 8,500-square-foot-space chunk of the mall with an expansive main dining room, bar seating, private dining options, an open-air kitchen, and a patio space with a fireplace. 

Here, the menu will celebrate local California produce and offer meals for all occasions, including weekend brunch to fuel shoppers at the Beverly Center. 

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The forthcoming Oleada restaurant follows the opening of SESTINA, another MKC concept that is luring consumers into the mall food court in nearby Century City.  

Upscale vegan food at the mall 

MKC opened the third location of SESTINA in August at the luxe outdoor Westfield Century City mall. The concept is a vegan pasta bar that offers a selection of dishes such as Rigatoni Arrabiata, Bucatini Puttanesca, and Shells with Vodka Sauce. 

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The new location also features a pizza oven, an L-shaped bar where biodynamic and organic Italian wines are the highlight, and an expanded sandwich menu to cater to the lunch crowd that frequents the Century City mall. 

“SESTINA offers healthy, plant-based adaptations of universally-loved Italian classics, using authentic techniques and recipes that remain true to the cuisine, and impeccably-sourced ingredients,” Kenney said in a statement.

“Honoring traditional styles while constantly experimenting with new dishes is what makes [SESTINA] unique, not just in the plant-based market, but the restaurant industry as a whole,” Kenney said.

In addition to these new vegan restaurants at mall food courts, Kenney’s plant-based empire includes concepts that span the gamut from upscale favorites such as Plant Food + Wine to fast-casual concepts such as Veg’d (an elevated drive-thru restaurant in Costa Mesa). 

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“The growth in the plant-based market continues to be monumental, and our passion for bringing more options to different parts of the city and the world is motivating our continued expansion to this new location in Century City,” Kenney said.

“We continue to see a real shift in the restaurant industry, which has been something I’ve been working toward for a very long time,” Kenney said. 

MKC’s upcoming openings include XYST in Doha, Qatar; Avivar in Los Cabos, Mexico; and Floraison in New York City, and many more. 

Food court mainstays get vegan options

With his upscale concepts, Kenney is undoubtedly giving shoppers exciting reasons to visit both the Beverly Center and Westfield Century City malls. But shopping mall food courts are getting a makeover in other ways, as well. 

While dining options at malls vary by location, many outposts of popular fast-food chains now offer shoppers new plant-based options—potentially presenting younger consumers with a new reason to hit the mall. 

Burger King has been leading the way in this realm since the launch of the Impossible Whopper in 2019. Made with Impossible Foods’ plant-based burger patty, the option can be ordered plant-based by holding the mayo. 

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At mall mainstay Panda Express, a new vegan option has been turning heads. Last month, Panda Express launched Beyond the Original Orange Chicken (BTOOC) at its more than 2,300 locations nationwide, many of which are housed within shopping malls, including locations at both Beverly Center and Century City malls. 

Panda Express developed BTOOC in partnership with Beyond Meat as a vegan alternative to its popular entree. The chain first tested BTOOC in a few markets in the summer of 2021 and after selling thousands of pounds of vegan chicken, expanded it nationally for a limited time.  

Other food court mainstays that have offered plant-based options throughout the years include Auntie Anne’s (where ordering a pretzel without butter unlocks a variety of vegan options); Chipotle (where sofritas is a hearty plant-based protein that can be ordered in any meal); and Baskin-Robbins (where oat milk ice cream is now on the menu). 

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