Burger Patch founders Phil and Danea Horn are on a path to upend the fast-food industry with their local chain of plant-based restaurants. (A third location is set to open near Sacramento State early this year.) The couple chatted recently about the power of food memories, big-time competition and what the future holds for the company.
The phrase “nostalgic taste” is part of the company tagline. What do those words mean to you?
Phil: I grew up in a single–parent household and was often on my own for meals when my mom was working, so I was a fast–food junkie. I grew up on every brand of burger you can think of. I’d eat that at least once, sometimes twice or even three times a day. So the idea of a good fast–food burger and the nostalgia around that, as we transitioned to become 100% plant based in our own diet a decade ago, it was something I missed.
Danea: Burgers and fries weren’t quite the thing for me. I grew up with primarily vegetarian parents. When we would go to fast food, I would get the side salad. With Burger Patch, we recognized the need for something that brings back memories but is healthier and more friendly to the environment and animals and our bodies.
Fast food is notorious for the waste it produces, particularly all the packaging. How are you addressing that?
Phil: Being kind is core to our ethos, and that’s not just to animals and people but to the planet. From the beginning, it was a conscious decision on our part to create as sustainable packaging as possible. Our trays are compostable; our bags are made with 100% recycled materials. The challenge is for the packaging industry to keep up with what we’re trying to accomplish when it comes to sustainability.
McDonald’s recently announced that it will be testing out a plant-based burger 2021. Do you have concerns about the competition?
Phil: We’re excited that all the big chains have started to adopt this. Our goal was never to be a niche product. It was to create something that would become mainstream. We hope that someday soon you’ll go to a Burger Patch not because it’s plant based, but because it’s the best burger.
Where do you see the business 10 or 20 years from now?
Phil: I think our growth will continue to be dictated by demand. We want to make sure we have a really smart and successful business model before we grow too fast. We’ve been very clear on focusing in Northern California for the foreseeable future. I get weekly requests not just from around the country but from around the world from people who want Burger Patch in their town. We’ll continue to listen. Right now, it’s really important that we grow smart and steady.
Danea: From the first moment that we sat down to write the business plan, we wanted Burger Patch to be a values–based business. This was never about how quick or how big we could get Burger Patch to be. We want Burger Patch to amplify the values that we hold and that our customers hold, too.