Quantcast
Photo courtesy of Earth Burger

Despite the seeming uniformity of fast food, tides of public opinion about it are constantly changing. From the initial innovation, to commodification, to general mistrust, ironic obsession, and a genuine desire to enjoy something simple and ubiquitous, vegans have mostly been watching from the sidelines.

Earth Burger, the small San Antonio restaurant chain founded in 2014 that claims to have been the United States’ “first-ever plant-based fast food restaurant,” has placed a bid on the greater fast-food economy with a national expansion. The burger joint will move through the franchising process with help from Sinelli Concepts International, a Dallas group which operates and shares a founder with Which Wich Superior Sandwiches.

Sinelli Concepts and its investee Earth Burger know the market is there for franchises after receiving “hundreds of inquiries” from individuals and companies, many of whom have demonstrated experience in restaurants. A launch party on November 10 in San Antonio will invite others interested in franchising to gather information and get to know the business, from the food to the team. Attendees can also win prizes, from free Earth Burger for a year, to a full franchising fee ($30,000).

“Sinelli Concepts is proud to partner with a Texas-based brand that takes pride in offering customers accessible plant-based options,“ said founder Jeff Sinelli in a press release. “We’ve seen a trajectory of demand for plant-based food and more sustainable options. The future of fast food is here, and we know plant-based lovers and novices alike will enjoy Earth Burger’s flavorful offerings.”

The partnership initiated a complete rebranding, including unspecified changes to the menu, but the idea remains the same. The menu is meant to be very convenient — initially for co-founder Mike Behrend and his vegan collaborators’ kids — while remaining environmentally sustainable. And because Behrend, who used to be known for his chicken-fried steak, knows firsthand that none of this is useful if it doesn’t taste good, the restaurant places a heavy emphasis on flavor.

“As a Texan, I can strongly confirm meat is a central part of Texas food culture – but believe me when I tell you these burgers are just as tasty,” said Behrend in the release. “You’re not settling for an average bland fast food meal at Earth Burger. Our completely meatless menu features bold recipes and sauces we create in-house, bringing out the best flavor in our dishes. We want to provide a really delicious meal that just happens to be plant-based.”

Earth Burger makes it sustainability choices public on its website, with a list of sustainable products that it prefers to use when supply is available, including recycled and biodegradable materials. It also donates “a portion of sales from select menu items” to its Peach on Earth Project, according to a press release, although information about this foundation does not seem to be publicly accessible.

Space at the franchising event is limited. RSVP at earthburger.com, and have some info on hand to fill out the form.

Courtesy of Project Pollo

San Antonio's popular vegan fast-food chain announces 15th location

Tastes like Pollo

Project Pollo is really spreading its wings: The popular plant-based chicken chain announced its 15th location in Texas, coming soon to 9390 Huebner St. in San Antonio.

Opening in August, the medical district spot will be the sixth San Antonio location for the growing chain, which celebrates its two-year anniversary this fall.

A ribbon cutting on August 18 will commemorate the official opening with the San Antonio Chamber of Commerce, while a grand opening will take place on August 20. The lucky first 50 guests will win gift cards granting free Project Pollo for a whole year.

Can't wait that long? A soft opening will commence at the new location on August 9, showcasing the new full menu, including the famous crispy, plant-based "chickn" sandwiches, popcorn chikn, loaded fries, oat-based macaroni and cheese, creamy milkshakes, and much more.

Named one of the top 15 vegan fast-food chains in the U.S. by VegNews, Project Pollo is the brainchild of Lucas Bradbury, who appeared on Shark Tank earlier this year.

The company has been ruffling industry feathers with its unprecedented growth since it first launched, and is no doubt part of the reason San Antonio made a recent list of the top 20 vegan cities in the U.S.

With a combination of plant-based affordability, convenience, and sustainability, the company markets itself as one that "gives a cluck," with a motto of people over profits (though with 12 locations already, they seem to be doing just fine on the latter, too).

Photo courtesy of Cinnaholic

7 things to know in San Antonio food right now: Gourmet cinnamon roll shop rises in Alamo Ranch

News you can eat

Editor’s note: We get it. It can be difficult to keep up with the fast pace of San Antonio’s restaurant and bar scene. We have you covered with our regular roundup of essential food news.

Openings and closings
Berkley, California-based chain Cinnaholic is rolling out a second Alamo City location on the Northwest Side. Via a newly created Facebook page, the bakery franchise announced it was setting up shop at 5519 W. Loop 1604 N. #104 in the Alamo Ranch shopping center. Known for its vegan, made-to-order treats — and for impressing investor Robert Herjavec on Shark Tank — Cinnaholic opened its first local operation in 2020 at 812 S. Alamo St. in Southtown.

After more than 32 years in business, one of San Antonio’s essential restaurants is calling it a day. In a lengthy Facebook statement, a rep for Mr. & Mrs. G’s Home Cooking said the East Side staple would serve its last meal on July 30, citing “the impact of COVID 19 and other factors.” The soul food destination will adjust hours to Wednesday through Friday, 11 am-5 pm, and Saturday, 11am-3 pm until the final day. The menu will also be tweaked as stocks dwindle.

Plans for Dave’s Hot Chicken’s San Antonio expansion appear to be warming up. In March, franchisees John Hotchkiss, Jason Hotchkiss, and Paul Gorman shared their plans to bring eight outposts of the buzzy Los Angeles chain to the area but gave scant details. Now, a filing with the Texas Department of Licensing and Regulation reveals the first Dave’s will hatch at Highway 151 and Hunt Lane. Construction is set to finish by February 2022, according to state records.

Texas Department of Licensing and Regulation records also divulge that Phoenix’s Postino Wine Café is eyeing two locations in town. The casual eatery serves a variety of vino-friendly small plates and boards along with bruschetta, soup, salad, and paninis. Guests can clink glasses at both 17627 La Cantera Pkwy in the Rim and 2600 Broadway by spring if the builds go as planned.

Those not yet old enough to indulge in Pinot can run amok at San Antonio’s latest Peter Piper Pizza. On July 18, a monster 12,000-square-foot location opened at 12475 Interstate Highway 10 West at De Zavala Road, according to a release. Operated by franchisee Kirk Robison, the new outpost is the 10th area location for the company.

Other news and notes
Southeast Asian stalwart Thai Dee is emerging from the Covid-19 pandemic. Following a two-year hiatus, the restaurant took to social media to celebrate the reopening of its dining room. Hours are noon-8 pm, Monday through Thursday, and noon-9 pm Friday and Saturday. Those who prefer to eat banana spring rolls in pajamas can still take advantage of delivery and take-out with online ordering noon-7:45 pm.

A global heatwave notwithstanding, restaurant reservation platform OpenTable has announced its list of the nation’s top 100 restaurants for outdoor dining. The list considered views, the overall experience, and the quality of cuisine to compile the rankings. Only one San Antonio eatery made the cut, Pearl hot spot Brasserie Mon Chou Chou.

Project Pollo

San Antonio makes showing on list of top 20 vegan cities in U.S.

Vegan News

A new survey of the top 20 cities in the U.S. where it's best to be a vegan has determined which city is the most vegan of all. Spoiler: It's not San Antonio. Boo.

But San Antonio did make the list, coming in at No. 13, boasting 202 restaurants that are vegan or offer vegan options.

The survey by the team at Meal Delivery Experts set out to determine which cities have the most vegan food options. They compiled the 20 most populous cities in the U.S., then used data from TripAdvisor to count how many restaurants or food venues in each city offers at least one vegan option.

New York came in at No. 1, blowing everyone else away with 1464 restaurants or food venues offering vegan options — more than double the number than any other city on the list.

Los Angeles was in second place, with 705 restaurants or food venues offering vegan options. Los Angeles has among the widest variety of cuisines including vegan Korean, Ethiopian, and Thai food.

No. 3 was Chicago, with 489 restaurants or food venues offering vegan options, surprising since Chicago is such a meaty town, although the city is best known for deep-dish pizza, and many Chicago restaurants now offer a vegan alternative.

Among Texas cities, Houston and Austin both make the top 10. Houston comes in at No. 6, with 312 restaurants — snatching the surprise win for top vegan city in Texas away from Austin, which has a bigger reputation for being veg-friendly; Austin is No. 8 on the list with 286 restaurants.

Dallas just noses out San Antonio at No. 12, with 209 vegan- or vegan-friendly establishments.

San Antonio's vegan scene is noteworthy in that it's the birthplace of some serious innovators including Earth Burger, the pioneering fast-food burger chain, and Project Pollo, the vegan chicken chain that recently appeared on Shark Tank.

Fort Worth comes in last place, with 68 restaurants or food venues offering at least one vegan option. Despite what the numbers say, Fort Worth has a buzzy vegan scene with places like Pizza Verde, Zonk Burger, and Mariachi's Dine-In; it's also home to Texas' most famous vegan restaurant, Spiral Diner.

Whether motivated by health, environmental, or ethical reasons, the number of vegans in the US is rapidly increasing, reaching new heights in 2022. One in ten, or 10 percent, of Americans now consider themselves vegan or vegetarian.

The dollars are also there, with the plant-based industry worth over $7 billion in the US in 2022.

The milk substitute market is valued at over $3 billion in 2022.

The meat substitute market is valued over $1 billion in 2022.

The full list, by ranking:

  1. New York - 1464
  2. Los Angeles - 705
  3. Chicago - 489
  4. San Francisco - 467
  5. San Diego - 385
  6. Houston - 312
  7. Seattle - 309
  8. Austin - 286
  9. Denver - 261
  10. Philadelphia - 258
  11. Phoenix - 234
  12. Dallas - 209
  13. San Antonio - 202
  14. Charlotte, NC - 176
  15. Jacksonville, FL - 140
  16. Indianapolis - 140
  17. Columbus, Ohio - 137
  18. San Jose - 80
  19. Oklahoma City - 80
  20. Fort Worth - 68
Project Pollo

San Antonio's buzzy vegan fast-food chain gets a shot on Shark Tank

Vegan News

A San Antonio restaurant concept is lining up for a crack at the startup lottery: Project Pollo, the buzzy fast-casual vegan chick'n chain, will be featured on Shark Tank, the ABC reality show where entrepreneurs pitch their business idea to the deep-pocketed "sharks" in the hopes of luring investment startup funds.

According to a release, Project Pollo CEO & founder Lucas Bradbury will appear solo on the episode on May 20 at 7 pm. It's also the series' season finale.

"We were beyond excited when we received the opportunity to film for the show and to receive valuable feedback from such a talented group of sharks!" Bradbury says in a statement. "Project Pollo is here to show the world that the future of mass consumption is plant-based."

Bradbury founded Project Pollo in 2020 as a concept that's just like a fast-food chicken restaurant in every way except the menu is entirely vegan.

The menu features vegan chicken sandwiches, wraps, and strips, plus sides including crispy papas, aka french fries, smothered in cashew queso, and mac & cheese, which you can get plain or topped with chicken nuggets.

They also have indulgent burgers and decadent milkshakes.

Project Pollo is out to change the face of the fast-food industry by offering affordable, delicious, convenient access to high-quality plant-based options for everyone from vegans to curious carnivores.

They currently have 11 locations across San Antonio, Austin, Houston, and Dallas, some with drive-thrus. And 2022 is shaping up to be a busy year: They opened a location in Dallas on Greenville Avenue in February, and another in Round Rock in April, with more locations coming this summer including San Marcos, Corpus Christi, and two more locations in Austin.

At this rate, their goal of having 100 stores open by 2024 seems more than viable.

In addition to its plant-based mission, Project Pollo also emphasizes fair wages, people over profit, and sustainability, which is something a lot of restaurants talk about but that Project Pollo actually does, using paper-based packaging and compostable utensils.

While the release does not reveal the outcome of the show, the odds seem high that the concept might attract interest from Shark Tank star Mark Cuban, who himself follows a vegetarian diet and has made numerous investments in vegan brands such as Everything Legendary vegan burgers; Numilk, a machine that creates plant-based milks; and Mrs. Goldfarb's Unreal Deli vegan deli meats.

Misha's

San Antonio Central Market boards vegan train with celebrity-backed cheese

Vegan News

There's a vegan cheese in town and it's kind of a big deal. The cheese is from Misha's, a Los Angeles-based company that makes what they claim is the best dairy-free cheese on the market, and it's making its debut at Central Market.

Misha's does a spreadable cheese flavored with herbs and spices. Central Market will carry the following six flavors:

  • Lox — dill, capers, carrots
  • French Connection — herbs de Provence, grains of paradise, black olives
  • Smoked Cheddar — smoked paprika, chipotle
  • Sari — sundried tomatoes, garlic, cilantro
  • Seven Point Five — jalapeno, habanero, strawberries
  • Black Truffle — black truffle, shallots

Previously, Misha's was available only on the West Coast and online. The new partnership with Central Market brings Misha's to Texas' seven top cities, including Austin, Dallas, Fort Worth, Houston, San Antonio, Southlake, and Plano. Five of those cities have CultureMap bureaus, so Misha's is on to something.

Central Market has been less quick to embrace vegan foods than other chains like Sprouts and Kroger's. But Misha's possesses extra assets: They're Black-owned and have a celebrity backing buzz from a group that includes Jay-Z and NBA All-Star Chris Paul.

Misha's cheese is made from cashew and almond milk, the most common ingredients used to make vegan cheese. And the cheese is spreadable, versus firm. Spreadable vegan cheese is far easier to make than firm vegan cheese — a lesson Misha's cofounders learned early in the game, as they told medium:

The first product we launched was an aged, sliceable cheese. It was fairly complicated to produce, and package and it was a bit volatile. One night, right as we were preparing for the next day's farmers market, it got the best of us. Our refrigerators failed and the cheese didn't set up properly. Ian and I looked at each other nearly defeated… all that time, all that effort, all that money… and then, almost in unison we said 'let's sell it as spreadable cheese!' Less time, less energy, cheaper to make and package."

Founders chef Ian Martin and Aaron Bullock, who began operating in 2018, have an unusual background for cheesemakers: They were previously in the music and entertainment industry. But Martin had begun exploring raw vegan cooking, and worked with two well-known raw vegan names: Matthew Kenny and Juliano's Planet Raw. Bullock, meanwhile, had an interest in naturopathic medicine and had opened a clinic.

They've earned backing by Marcy Venture Partners: Jay Brown and Jay-Z, Pendulum Holdings: Robbie Robinson, Lisa Shamus, and 11-time NBA All-Star Chris Paul, and hope to reimagine the dairy aisle not only with their non-dairy cheese, but also other products such as milk, butter, and yogurt.

Emphasizing the gourmet/health vibe seems to make vegan food easier for foodies to swallow than the whole inconvenient "humane concern for animals" angle. Misha's is also certified and licensed in California as a Dairy Company, which allows them to legally use the word "Cheese."

Assets such as these have earned them attention on food websites such as Food 52 — and now a spot on the shelves of Central Market's 10 stores.

"With Austin, Houston and Dallas all consistently named most friendly for plant-based consumers, expanding into Texas is a perfect next move for Misha’s," Bullock says in a release. "We're a purpose-driven and community-focused company that believes in spreading kindness and committed to lifting as we climb. We're proud to join hands with the great people of Texas."

Ad Placement 300x100
Ad Placement 300x600

CultureMap Emails are Awesome

San Antonio Missions hit home run with new owners, plus more top stories

Hot Headlines

Editor’s note: It’s that time again — time to check in with our top stories. Here are five articles that captured our collective attention over the past seven days.

1. San Antonio's minor league baseball team scores new owners, including Texas sports legends. San Antonio's minor league baseball team is back to being locally owned — by some big names.

2. H-E-B unveils new line of merchandise for super fans, available exclusively at this store. Kerrville was chosen to launch the company's new line of H-E-B-branded merchandise, in celebration of its 117th anniversary and in honor of its first store.

3. San Antonio market continues to see prices going up and sales going down. San Antonio home sales dropped 19 percent from October 2021.

4. San Antonio Rodeo wrangles even more musical acts for star-studded 2023. Turnpike Troubadours joined the already impressive lineup for the 2023 San Antonio Stock Show & Rodeo.

5. San Antonio children's theater adapts timeless children's book for the holidays. Magik Theatre celebrates The Velveteen Rabbit as a Christmas story, with inclusive special performances.

Steven Spielberg opens up personal history in The Fabelmans

Movie Review

For over 40 years, director Steven Spielberg has been delivering some of the most popular blockbuster movies of all time as well as a bevy of Oscar-quality dramas, a combination that’s unique to him. For his latest, The Fabelmans, he’s decided to go more personal than ever, telling a thinly-veiled version of his own childhood.

Sammy (played mostly by Gabriel LaBelle) is one of four children – and the only son – of Mitzi (Michelle Williams), a concert pianist, and Burt Fabelman (Paul Dano), a computer engineer. From an early age, Sammy is enthralled by the art of filmmaking, first remaking a train crash sequence from The Greatest Show on Earth, and gradually moving on to more adventurous stories.

Burt’s advancing career, which moves the family from New Jersey to Arizona to California, causes stress for various members of the family, most notably Sammy and Mitzi. Sammy must deal with anti-Semitic bullies, while Mitzi falls deeper into a mental health crisis. Sammy’s movies continually offer a respite for the family, though, giving him a creative outlet and the rest of them a chance to forget their troubles for a while.

Written by Spielberg – his first writing effort since 2001’s A.I. Artificial Intelligence – and Tony Kushner, the film is heavy on emotions but presented in a way that those feelings don’t always translate. Spielberg is no stranger to depicting fraught family situations in his long career, but in showing ones from his own family, it feels like he pulled back, not wanting the scenes to be overwrought or schmaltzy.

The result is a story that isn’t as universal as some of his other films. As the film is told from Sammy’s perspective, it’s easy to get caught up in his pursuits and various discoveries as he gets older. The mindsets of the rest of the family are less clear, even though his parents and sisters are ever-present. Mitzi’s state of mind is a concern from the start, but it’s not always treated as such by other important characters.

Just as Sammy’s movies are an escape for his family, so too are they some of the best parts of the film. Sammy figuring out the process and secrets of filmmaking is informative and often thrilling, especially if you’re a cinephile. Spielberg has been considered a master for so long that watching him revisit the days when he was learning as he went is catnip for movie lovers.

In addition to being a dead ringer for a teenage Spielberg, LaBelle is a fantastic actor. It’s no easy feat to carry a movie on your shoulders, and LaBelle makes the assignment look easy. Williams’ performance will likely be more polarizing; she employs a very mannered speech pattern that works in some situations, but not all. The film also includes memorable short appearances by Seth Rogen, Judd Hirsch, and David Lynch.

Spielberg has provided the moviegoing public with such pleasure over the years that he deserves to have a movie that’s mostly for him. The initial viewing of The Fabelmans left this critic wanting, but perhaps it will gain more traction on a second screening.

---

The Fabelmans is now playing in theaters.

Photo by Merie Weismuller Wallace/Universal Pictures and Amblin Entertainment

Gabriel LaBelle in The Fabelmans

New self-guided tour showcases iconic Fort Worth Stockyards' many Hollywood ties

Tinseltown in Cowtown

A new self-guided tour showcasing the Fort Worth Stockyards’ many star-studded appearances in cinema throughout the years recently debuted in time for the 16th annual Lone Star Film Festival, which took place earlier this month in the Stockyards for the first time.

Called Stars of the Stockyards, the eight-stop, go-at-your-own pace walking tour guides folks to famous film sites where celebrities have stepped foot in front of Hollywood cameras. Visitors to the Stockyards can access the PDF tour map on their smart phones via QR codes (no app required) posted throughout the district, namely at hotels and tour kiosks.

"The Stockyards is a historic and celebrated destination for many reasons, but one that may be lesser known is its popularity as a filming location for some of our favorite movies and TV series," said Ethan Cartwright, VP of marketing for Stockyards Heritage Development Co.

The tour and corresponding QR codes are a permanent addition to the district, he said.

Stops on the map include the iconic White Elephant Saloon, a hotbed for Hollywood performances including several by legendary actor and martial artist Chuck Norris in the longtime TV series, Walker, Texas Ranger when the watering hole was portrayed as the fictional CD Bar. The White Elephant was also graced by country music superstar Tim McGraw and Academy Award-winning actor Billy Bob Thornton for their appearances in Paramount Plus’ hit series 1883.

Also in 1883 and featured on the tour is Hookers Grill, hidden in the less flashy West side of Exchange Ave. The burger shack transformed into a gambling den in the show called The Texas House of Liquor & Sport. It’s the only building in the Stockyards that preserved the façade constructed by 1883’s production team. During operating hours, customers can order at the outdoor burger window and dine at patio tables within the two-story structure.

Cowtown Coliseum is marked on the map for its appearances in the 1983 film Tough Enough, where actor Dennis Quaid played an amateur boxer. It’s also the home of the final rodeo scene in the 1992 movie Pure Country starring country music legend George Strait.

Billy Bob’s Texas, the Stockyards Hotel, and even unassuming historic cattle pens also make the list on the tour, along with notations for the Texas Trail of Fame, which features more than 240 bronze markers honoring contributors for preserving and perpetuating the Western way of life.

Veteran actors Sam Elliot and Robert Duvall, both stars in the megahit TV series Yellowstone, are among the most recent Texas Trail of Fame inductees.

For more information and to get started on the tour, go here.