Walk into Native Foods in Boulder, CO and you’ll find a typical American menu. Appetizers include chicken wings, nachos, spring rolls and bowls of Tex-Mex chili. There’s a soup of the day and entries such Oklahoma Bacon Burgers with fries, Italian meatball subs with Parmesan cheese, chicken patties and Ruebens, among other items. You go to the front and order your meal, grab a cup and get some soda and sit at a table or a booth and wait for your food to be served.
Only one thing about any of this restaurant chain’s 14 locations (a second one is located in Boulder) is different than the average American eatery. The entire menu is vegan, from the meat to the mayo. Indeed, an uninformed consumer who isn't paying too close attention could walk into Native Foods and not know it is vegan, even after eating a full meal.
The “meat” balls in the Italian meatball sub are wheat-based, but the recipe has been painstakingly crafted so that they not only taste like typical America, beef-based meatballs from a deli in New England, New York or anywhere else, they even have a texture that mimics the old meat-based standard that they so subtly replace.
“Our entire menu is 100% plant-based as we strive to create a compassionate dining experience serving up homemade meals that are good for you, your family and the environment,” reads the company’s website.
The company was founded in Palm Springs, CA, where the original café opened in 1994. All but three of the chain’s restaurants are located on the west coast. Of the three that are part of Native Foods’ eastward expansion, two are in Colorado. The third is in downtown Chicago, IL, where the chain is now head-quartered.
While Native Foods blends into the restaurant scene in terms of typical appearance, the company is quite active in in the new movement in numerous ways. Restaurants often host open cooking demonstrations to offer the public knowledge on the preparation of vegan foods.
A detailed, online newsletter is available for free that highlights these events, along with dates when percentages of sale proceeds will be donated to different charities. The charities supported by native Foods include numerous animal-advocacy organizations, but also, the firm supports health initiatives for children, including Yoga programs and food banks.
As part of a major expansion plan, Native Foods is seeking to open up to 200 new restaurants in the next four years. The 2014 expansion program includes another Denver location, as well as one in Dallas and one in Washington DC.