Meet The Man Who Wants To Build The Plant-Based McDonald’s Of The Future

Food & Drink

The future of food is beginning to look a lot clearer. And it doesn’t involve nearly as much meat. Or at least meat in the sense that we know it today. Riding a wave of technological breakthroughs, plant-based alternatives are sprouting up at a rapid clip. Last year the ‘global meat substitutes’ sector was valued at just north of $20.7 billion. A recent study predicts this figure will surpass $75 billion by 2027.

Steele Smiley sees the writing on the wall. And he’s planning accordingly. The restaurateur and wellness guru has already made a name for himself in the fast casual space with his Crisp & Green concept. Conceived in his native Minnesota, the healthy eating chain recently franchised nationally. Now he’s looking to replicate that success in the plant-based sector with Stalk & Spade— an entirely meat-free outpost opening this spring just outside of Minneapolis.

“We’re excited to introduce another culinary concept that meets consumer needs,” says Smiley, alluding to the more than 9.7 million Americans currently following plant-based diets. “From burgers to shakes, everything on the menu will be plant-based. Whether you drive through or dine in, guests will feel good about what they put in their bodies at an affordable price.”

The last point is hardly incidental. Higher associated costs have often been cited as a stumbling block for those looking to pursue a more vegetable-forward approach to dining. Stalk & Spade will leverage some of the recent price-based advantages that have characterized innovation in the sector.

Smiley’s also banking on the convergence of a number of auspicious circumstances. For one, focus on healthy lifestyle choices are at an all-time high as we approach the one year anniversary of COVID-19 lockdowns. Additionally, climate change is weight on more minds than ever before. And many consumers are starting to see a shorter path between environmentalism and dietary decisions. To wit, a University of California study recently showed that vegans generate a 41.7 percent smaller volume of greenhouse gases than their meat-eating counterparts.

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Signature menu items will include a burger with American cheese, dill pickles, ‘fancy sauce’ and lettuce; an alternative made from ground mushrooms with smoked gouda, arugula and roasted garlic mayo and a crispy southwest ‘chicken’ sandwich served with dill pickles, chipotle ranch, tomato and lettuce. The entire menu, curated by Smiley, will feed an average diner for around $10.

“We’re excited to introduce STALK & SPADE to Minnesota. Our intention, as has happened with CRISP & GREEN, is to build the thoughtful nutrition concept in Minnesota and then expand nationally through franchising.”

In other words: the food of the future is now. And if Steele Smiley has his way, it’ll soon be arriving in a neighborhood near you.

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