Launched by Chef Margaux Riccio and Shaun Sharkey, the Plant Food Lab Incubator hopes to help vegan restaurants by offering a space to trial new menus and restaurant ideas starting with the vegan burger shop Bubbie’s Plant Burgers amidst an increasingly challenging environment for chefs due to the almost year long global Covid-19 pandemic.
Recently debuted in Washington, DC, the Plant Food Lab Incubator aims to offer founders and chefs a safe space to test out new vegan menus and vegan restaurant ideas, starting with vegan burger shop Bubbie’s Plant Burgers.
Located in Dupont Circle, the incubator is founded by Margaux Riccio and Shaun Sharkey, owners of Pow Pow, an Asian-fusion fast-casual shop, and apart from trying out new menus and restaurant ideas, the incubator will also invite chefs to test and taste these concepts before launching them into the world.
It’s scary, no one’s opening restaurants right now. Everyone thinks we’re a little crazy to do this. We feel that, with all the food shortages, people are trying plant-based when they wouldn’t try it normally. If anything, this is a good time to reach new people. There’s been a lot of disruption in the food supply.Chef Margaux Riccio, Co-founder of the Plant Food Lab Incubator
Bubbie’s Plant Burgers, which is also owned by Riccio and Sharkey is the first to set up shop inside this plant Food Lab.
Riccio suffers from a rare genetic connective tissue disorder since childhood, a condition which was exacerbated when she was forced to stand for long hours as a newly trained chef. As a coping strategy, she started taking a lot of aspirin. Over a period of time, the painkillers started to affect her, resulting in severe allergic reactions to many foods, with dairy a particular irritant.
She became vegan and her symptoms improved, but she missed meat. So she decided to create dishes that reminded her of meat but had the same texture and taste of foods that she loves but can no longer eat, which is how Bubbie’s Plant Burgers was born. Riccio currently makes all the plant proteins herself, however in the future she may offer Impossible Foods products.
Bubbie’s uses seitan, a vegan meat alternative created out of hydrated gluten, the main protein found in wheat, and beets, as a base for many of its plant meats including vegan pork belly bacon and crispy chicken sandwiches for takeout and delivery. In the near future, Plant Food Lab plans to add dine-in seating.
In an interview with Eater, Riccio explained that she wanted to offer chefs a more straightforward way to trial concepts and ideas during a difficult time for restaurant owners. “It’s scary, no one’s opening restaurants right now. Everyone thinks we’re a little crazy to do this. We feel that, with all the food shortages, people are trying plant-based when they wouldn’t try it normally. If anything, this is a good time to reach new people. There’s been a lot of disruption in the food supply.”
Riccio also wants the incubator to be a place for Bubbie’s Plant Burgers employees to pitch their restaurant dreams.“It will give people that work for us an opportunity that we never had.”
In the summer, the founders are looking to open Bubbie’s in a different location and transforming the incubator space into a New York-style deli Cenzo’s. This will allow for the creation and sale of vegan cold cuts, charcuterie, and cheeses.
Plant Food Lab also stocks products from Vertage, Riccio’s wholesale operation that supplies meats and vegan cheeses to other restaurants.
In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, many incubator initiatives have been launched to support and help alternative protein players to grow and develop new food solutions. For instance, last year in June, Bangkok-based food tech incubator and accelerator program SPACE-F announced the opening of applications for new companies developing sustainable and tech-forward food solutions.
In China, cross-border impact investment venture Dao Foods and early-stage VC New Crop Capital introduced a new incubator aimed at facilitating plant-based entrepreneurs with mentorship, financial backing, and development workshops.
All images courtesy of Bubbie’s Plant Burgers.