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Next Level Burger proves meat isn’t necessary for a quality burger

Next Level Burger just acquired Veggie Grill, becoming one of the largest vegan restaurant groups in the world


Is traditional meat necessary to create a tasty and satisfying burger? Next Level Burger — one of the largest plant-based burger chains in the country — hopes to prove otherwise. In fact, the 10-unit, Portland-based brand’s CEO and cofounder Matt de Gruyter used to be a serious carnivore with a private equity career in oil and gas before he changed his life.

Now, together with his wife and NLB cofounder/chief visionary officer Cierra de Gruyter, they are meat-free and run Next Level Burger both as a way to showcase tasty, plant-based, organic ingredients, and to raise awareness for a sustainable lifestyle that’s better for the planet. 

“Being vegan, of course, separates you from 99.9% of other burger brands out there, but we don’t just stop there,” de Gruyter said. “No one else, to my knowledge is also committed to non-GMO, organic everything in the plant-based space. However, we don't stop there are committed to organics, no one else to my knowledge is doing that anywhere, and to my knowledge, not even remotely in the plant-based space. We believe in being a good steward for the planet.”

Next Level Burger showcases a menu of burgers, fries, and shakes made with a variety of vegan and organic ingredients, including in-house made smash burgers, mushroom patties, and Beyond burgers. The menu options range from health-conscious — with ingredients like quinoa, avocado, and sprouted grain buns — to indulgent, like the Maverick Burger, topped with onion rings, tempeh bacon, vegan cheese, and barbecue sauce.

“I guarantee you that if a Maverick burger appeared in front of you right now and you took a bite, you’d never know it was vegan,” de Gruyter said. “I’ve eaten more than my fair share of red meat, and this burger scratches that itch without the guilt and without the impact on yourself or the planet. I think we’ve shifted the question from, ‘why eat plant-based?’ to ‘why not?’”

Although the Maverick Burger is one of the most indulgent items on the menu that might appeal to omnivores the most, de Gruyter said his favorite item on the menu is the signature burger because he said he feels so good when he eats it, from the freshness and crunch of the produce to the lean protein that doesn’t weigh you down.

Besides coming up with burgers that appeal to a wide spectrum of guests, Next Level Burger has been busy growing in size. Most recently, the company purchased Veggie Grill, and in doing so, became the largest vegan restaurant group in the U.S. and one of the largest in the world, with 27 restaurant locations.

Moving forward, de Gruyter foresees both Veggie Grill and Next Level Burger growing significantly throughout the country, and possibly becoming as ubiquitous as Chipotle one day. The goal is to reach 1,000 restaurants and whether they do that in 10 years or 20 years, he said. the Next Level Burger team will do it by growing when and where it makes sense while still sticking to their mission.

“We’re not asking the world to go vegan overnight,” de Gruyter said. “But if we can reduce our animal consumption by 50%, then we'll reduce agricultural carbon emissions by about 30%.... The most effective way you can drive positive impact in climate change is to eat more plants, and we want to make that process as delicious as possible.”

Contact Joanna at [email protected]

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Savvy Sliders

Hat Creek Burger Co.

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