Oregon Vegan Burger Chain Raises $20 Million
Next Level Burger, the first organic vegan burger restaurant in the United States, has raised $20 million in funding, according to Matt de Gruyter, its co-founder, and CEO. Long-term, that translates to 1,000 fast food chain outlets, by the end of 2025, focused on healthier plant-based fast-food alternatives that taste just as good as conventional fast food.
Founded in 2014 by Matt and Cierra de Gruyter, the chain originally announced its intention to expand in January 2022, with a long-term goal of opening 1,000 locations; this round of capital will allow the company to move forward with those plans.
The Bend, Oregon-based quick-service restaurant chain announced a successful funding round in the last quarter of 2022. This financial initiative was led by an unnamed strategic organic and natural foods partner, private high-net-worth shareholders, and “vegan investor power couple” Alex Payne, formerly of Twitter and Simple Bank, and Nicole Brodeur, who runs the Payne Brodeur Giving Fund.
The company intends to use the funds to support the execution of its national expansion plans, which consists of quadrupling its current store count nationwide and accelerating the brand’s long-term goal of opening 1,000 units.
How it started
Matthew de Gruyter, an oil and gas venture investor, had made his first million dollars before the age of 30. Living in the rich suburbs of Orange County, California, and driving a red BMW M3 race vehicle allowed the father of two to enjoy the finest things in life.
He also stated that he could afford to live a “cleaner” life. He stopped eating red meat in 2010 after his mother died of cancer at the age of 56. De Gruyter, then 27, reminisced on his weekly diet of steaks, Whoppers, and meat burritos, estimating that he consumed several pounds of red meat each week. According to De Gruyter, switching to a plant-based diet helped him become stronger, more active, and less stressed at work.
In order to align his employment with this diet, he resigned from his job and opened a plant-based burger business in 2014. Cierra, his wife, developed the recipes for the quinoa-and-mushroom burgers. The brand eventually drew the attention of two significant investors: Whole Foods Market and Alex Payne, a former Twitter employee. Both were early supporters of de Gruyter’s Next Level Burger brand, which has expanded to nine locations across six states.
About Next Level
Next Level, which was founded in 2014, has nine sites, six of which are in Whole Foods Markets. The chain intends to triple in size by the end of 2025, with the long-term goal of reaching 1,000 units.
Next Level was among the first in a developing niche of plant-based fast-food businesses selling classic burgers, shakes, and fries. However, Next Level is also devoted to organic, non-GMO foods. It is built around a sustainability concept, with biodegradable to-go packaging and a promise to pay workers a decent wage. The franchise has locations in Oregon, Washington, California, Texas, and New York, with the most recent stand-alone location opening in Denver.
Before Beyond Meat and Impossible Foods were available at fast-food chains like Burger King and McDonald’s, the first Next Level Burger outlet debuted in Oregon in 2014. And that was before the current influx of plant-based fast-food franchises like Power Plant, Neat Burger, and, most recently, actor Kevin Hart’s Hart House, which has ambitious development aspirations.
The company announced plans in January to open 21 new stores by the end of 2025 in target markets on the West Coast and the Southwest and Northeast. Payne has been a longtime investor in the burger chain and helped make its Southeast Hawthorne Boulevard location a reality in 2017. Earlier this year, Next Level Burger opened a new location at 1972 W. Burnside next to Providence Park. That gave the restaurant eight locations in Oregon, Washington, California, New York, and Texas.
Several of its locations are located in Whole Foods stores in a partnership that arose from Whole Foods 365’s executive chef enjoying the restaurant’s Hawthorne location, de Gruyter said in 2017.
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