Steve Salm, who served as president of the Toronto-based Chase Hospitality Group for ten years, is placing all of his bets on operating a growing plant-based restaurant chain, PLANTA that has three different concepts. Launched in 2016, it has grown to eleven company-owned locations, with four each in Florida and Toronto, with one in New York City, Chicago and Bethesda, Maryland, though New York will add a second when its Williamsburg, Brooklyn location debuts later in December.
And growth is ascending since it has plans to open ten new eateries in 2023. All of those will be company-owned since it has no plans for franchising in the near future.
Based on their extensive restaurant experience and connections, Salm, who is founder and CEO of PLANTA, says it has raised the growth capital from “like-minded investors, individuals, private equity and family offices.”
PLANTA is trying to prove that Americans’ tastes are evolving and a plant-based menu will thrive in a competitive restaurant environment.
Salm’s desire to operate a plant-based eatery stemmed out of personal conviction. He had seen a documentary on how animal dining was unsustainable, started a vegan diet, and, as he phrases it, “felt better and was thinking better. It became a passion for me.”
By late November 2022, Chase Hospitality Group sold all of its remaining restaurants to focus on PLANTA, and moved its office to Miami, to pursue its expansion.
PLANTA, he says, aims to “reimagine and revitalize the plant-based dining experience across multiple cuisines.”
It developed three concepts to execute that mission: PLANTA, PLANTA Queen and PLANTA Cucina. PLANTA is all-encompassing, PLANTA Queens focuses exclusively on Asian-inspired dishes such as sushi, dumpling, and wok noodles while PLANTA Cucina specializes in Pan-Latin cuisine including tacos, tamales and enchiladas. Having the three concepts in place will make it easier to open multiple locations in one region.
At PLANTA Cocina, its most popular dishes are baja mushroom taco and potato chorizo taco; at PLANTA, it’s bang bang broccoli and the burger; and at PLANTA Queens, it’s the broccoli and dragon roll.
But when this reporter dined unannounced at PLANTA Queen in New York City, he was surprised that the menu offered a preponderance of dishes with carbohydrates, like pastas, not considered healthy nor low-calorie dining by most nutritionists. Other PLANTAs offer pizza.
Salm replies that it offers a “well-rounded menu of plant-based items that allows guests to curate their own unique dining experience, whether it’s a more nutrient-dense meal or a more hedonistic one.” He says its menu offers a range of items from “fresh salads to crispy tofu to indulgent pastas.”
In addition, he says, “We are not branding ourselves as a healthful restaurant. We aren’t shy about putting carbohydrates on the menu. But everything people enjoy is dairy free, containing no cream or animal protein.”
Despite the fact that most large restaurant chains in the U.S. revolve around pizza, burgers and tacos, he says Americans are ready for alternatives. Chains such as KFC, Papa John’s and Wendy’s, he suggests are there for “convenience and meant to be value-oriented dining options.”
But plant-based dining is better for the environment “by not relying on animal proteins for the meat,” Salm states.
He says its clientele has been responsive to new flavors and enjoys dining on vegetables and pastas. “We’re not trying to force activism of plant-based dining on any diner,” he notes.
Asked its target market, Salm replies that it’s very eclectic, but acknowledges that the majority of its clientele is aged twenty to forties.
To grow quickly and open 10 new eateries in 2023, it has a strenuous managerial training program where managers spend four months training and 10 weeks at a given restaurant where they learn the PLANTA system and get critiqued by existing managers.
Asked the three keys to PLANTA’s success, Salm replied: 1) Ongoing great management and leadership teams, 2) Educated and passionate guests, 3) Continued growth of the societal movement toward plant-based cuisine.
“We want to be a global leader in plant-based hospitality and have a basis of employees and suppliers that are committed to our ongoing success,” he says.