Nomoo founder George Montagu Brown’s journey to found a plant-based burger franchise is an unusual one, given his experience running an internet business in Costa Rica and operating a luxury resort. Now, he has his sights set on getting meat eaters to try his vegan creations.
“I really think we’ve cracked the code on the flavors and textures and overall experience that makes it just as popular for meat eaters as vegans,” Montagu Brown said. “Most of our guests aren’t vegan. That’s kind of why we’re here to transform fast food from the inside out.”
Nomoo (pronounced “No moo,” as in, without cows) is one of many plant-based burger franchises trying to become the next big fast-food chain. The plant-based retail market was valued at $7 billion last year, according to Good Food Institute, and more franchises are popping up in the United States.
The Los Angeles-based concept may seem like a dime a dozen in its home city—there’s five within a mile, according to Montagu Brown—but he’s convinced his food is delicious and unique enough to stand out in a crowd.
“Literally everything we do—from the shakes, to the chicken that we use in our ‘Plant-Fil-A’ hot chicken sandwiches—it’s all designed to be as realistic as possible,” Montagu Brown said. He developed a pea protein-based burger with food manufacturer Nestle Professional set to launch in October, and through the partnership is creating other proprietary products such as a vegan chicken burger and vegan cheese.
Nomoo is working with FranSmart to grow its footprint beyond its single store. FranSmart helped Five Guys achieve success and Montagu Brown is hoping for a similar result. He even thinks of Nomoo as Five Guys’ plant-based equivalent. “They didn’t invent the cheeseburger, they just did it a little better,” he said. “I think that we’re doing products that we do a little better than the others.”
The investment required to open a Nomoo unit ranges from $328,000 to $732,500.
Nomoo doesn’t use the word “vegan” when talking about its products, despite its lack of animal derivatives and meat in its entrees.
“We want to be inclusive. We want to be introductory. We want everyone to come and enjoy our food,” Montagu Brown said.
Start-ups aim for scale
Competition in the plant-based restaurant segment is heating up, with several emerging brands looking to stand out. Canadian chain Odd Burger has seven units open with 10 more in development. The brand launched its first store in 2017 and its own food manufacturing center in 2018. The company, which is publicly traded on Canada’s TSX Venture Exchange and in the U.S. on the OTCQB Venture Market, announced a 205 percent revenue increase for the third quarter over last year, to $787,585.
Vegan franchise Stalk and Spade opened its first store in Wayzata, Minnesota, in early 2021 and has since signed agreements to open new stores in Iowa, Minnesota and Florida.
Another new plant-based concept is Stand-Up Burgers, from the folks behind Veggie Grill, which has four spots between California and Chicago. The brand combines its activism with bold-flavored, plant-based meals.
VeganBurg may have just two stores open, in Singapore and San Francisco, but it has plans for massive growth. The franchise takes a different approach with its menu, using a few patty options, such as its signature plant-protein patty, a “crab” patty and a “fish” patty.
Franchisees have the option to serve an Impossible or Beyond veggie burger in their stores as a local-only option, said Ralph Piselli, who handles franchise development for the brand. International chains like Burger King, meanwhile, are only serving one of the two big brands.
“They’re either serving Beyond or Impossible,” Piselli said. “There’s a plus and a minus to that, because you’re always going to have loyalty. It’s just like Coke or Pepsi.”
The cost to open a VeganBurg restaurant ranges from $349,750 to $673,000.
Piselli brings 36 years of experience with Subway to VeganBurg, and he plans to use his development knowledge to expand VeganBurg worldwide. To him, it’s all about picking the right franchisees who want to actually be involved in the business, rather than “delegating everything off.”
“And we want to build a strong foundation. It’s not about rapid growth,” Piselli said. (Franchisees have criticized his previous employer, Subway, for its rapid worldwide growth.)
He used Chick-fil-A’s slow, but prominent, expansion as an example. “They took a long time to get where they are, but look at what they built. They built strong franchise owners. They built strong performing restaurants. They did it right.”