The motto for the new vegan PLNT Burger, which opened recently in the Whole Foods in downtown Silver Spring, is “Eat the change you wish to see in the world.” It appears on the T-shirts worn by the fast-casual restaurant’s staff, signage, menu, website and Instagram page.

PLNT Burger is clearly on a mission to help repair the food system and protect the environment by offering burgers constructed from Beyond Meat, a thoughtful plant-based alternative. Patrons are lining up at Whole Foods, eager to consume cheeseburgers, mushroom bacon BBQ burgers, crispy herbed fries and salads tossed with shaved broccoli, brussels sprouts, cabbage and kale. Oat-milk-based soft serve and shakes in chocolate, strawberry or swirl stem from a PLNT Burger partnership with Dolcezza.

One must dig deeper for two key facts about the fast-casual restaurant:

  1. PLNT Burger is certified kosher.
  2. The co-founder of the vegan burger spot is celebrity chef Spike Mendelsohn.

Spike Mendelsohn is best known in DC for his restaurants (Good Stuff Eatery and We the Pizza) and his numerous television appearances (Top Chef, Iron Chef America, Beat Bobby Flay). He was also the first chairman of DC’s Food Policy Council. This isn’t Mendelsohn’s first foray into feeding DC-area kosher diners. In 2011, Mendelsohn partnered with Sixth & I Synagogue to offer up kosher pastrami on a food truck, which he dubbed “Sixth & Rye.”

From left: Jonah Goldman, Rabbi Shmuel Herzfeld and Spike Mendelsohn (Courtesy of PLNT Burger)

“I’ve done a number of kosher meals and dinners throughout my lifetime,” says Mendelsohn. “When we first came to DC in 2008 and launched Good Stuff Eatery, we got involved with the community and the synagogue at Sixth & I. We started off with cooking demos where my mother and I competed in a matzah pizza cook-off, and then a latke cook-off. Once food trucks became popular in DC, Sixth & I reached out to me about doing something kosher, and since I have a pretty big deli background, I was all for it.” Sixth & Rye was designed as a pop-up and was wheeled away after several months.

Although his kosher food truck was short-lived, Judaism has long had an influence on Mendelsohn’s career. “My father, Harvey, is Jewish,” he says. “I grew up Greek Orthodox and Jewish, which I always referred to as Grewish. I learned about both religions and cultures, and I had a bar mitzvah. We have approached business as always engaging community and trying to do our part, which is the greatest Jewish lesson.”

Mendelsohn describes himself as a “flexitarian” when it comes to food, but his wife is vegan. He met Seth Goldman, founder of Honest Tea and executive chair of Beyond Meat, when they served on a panel together. Goldman introduced him to the Beyond Burger. Mendelsohn says he was blown away by the flavor and texture. Thus, the seed for launching the new company was planted.

Integral to the PLNT Burger team is Seth Goldman’s son, Jonah, who serves as director of strategic marketing. He initially contacted Rabbi Shmuel Herzfeld of the National Synagogue to discuss kosher certification.

“What’s so fun about PLNT Burger is that it’s celebrating our connection to food and the environment that creates and sustains us,” says Jonah Goldman. It’s about finding ways that we can meet a rising global need for protein in a compassionate and sustainable way. That’s the motivation for making it accessible to everyone. That’s why it’s kosher certified.”

Goldman has been influenced by Jewish values throughout his life. “The concept of tikkun olam— repairing a food system that is in desperate need of some changes—is a really exciting opportunity for this brand. Goldman is enthusiastic about working with Rabbi Shmuel. “He brings a real spirit and joy to the process and helps connect me to my Judaism.”

The PLNT Burger team plans to expand into additional Whole Foods and possibly as stand-alone spots. For now, they are firmly implanted in Whole Foods in Downtown Silver Spring, where they are steadily growing fans.

PLNT Burger, 240-685-6286, 833 Wayne Ave, Silver Spring, Maryland (inside Whole Foods Market), 11 am–9 pm daily. Kosher.

Top photo courtesy of PLNT Burger (Photo credit: Rey Lopez)