The burger created by Instagram
“Every collaboration we’ve done has come from one of us having that person’s phone number — he’s a friend,” said Lexie Jiaras, 28, founder of Monty’s, among the personalities. who helped create a subculture around the plant-based burger chain. “Someone walks into the store who is a friend of ours, who is a creative, and who we think would be the best fit.”
The majority of people who have contributed to the success of Monty’s, which sells hamburgers, chicken, fries, tater tots and plant-based shakes in six locations in Los Angeles, are not famous. These are families, fans leaving Dodger games, tourists, vegans, and those who can eat a whole double cheeseburger and never know it’s not meat.
The approach to getting them in, however, borrowed from music industry tactics rather than conventional food industry wisdom. Three of the active founders – Nic Adler, Bill Fold and Ms. Jiaras – have ties to Goldenvoice, the concert and festival conglomerate that operates Coachella.
Mr. Fold is the producer of the Goldenvoice festival; Mr. Adler, his former culinary director (he also owns the Roxy Theater on Sunset Boulevard); and Ms. Jiaras is a creative consultant for Coachella who advises on marketing, merchandise, sponsorship and more.
The three friends built a successful, self-funded vegan burger chain at a time when restaurants were in jeopardy, almost by accident. “Obviously, Bill and I just missed In-N-Out Burger,” said Ms. Jiaras, who has been in a relationship with Mr. Fold for seven years (both are vegans). “The only burger options were fancy – a seated place with a white tablecloth, where you pay over $30 for that chewy burger. We just wanted to crack our hands on a burger, eat fries, and dip them in a shake.
In 2018, the couple began developing a concept for a vegan In-N-Out in Mr. Fold’s hometown of Riverside, California. They asked Mr. Adler, a friend and owner of Nic’s on Beverly, to help develop recipes using Impossible. Meat – a ground beef substitute with soy and potato protein that had recently come onto the market. Ms Jiaras’ friend drew a picture of her rescue schnoodle, Monty, eating a burger, and the image became the brand’s logo and namesake.
“We were playful, because we weren’t really profit-driven,” she said. The group planned to open Monty’s at a location in the Riverside Food Lab, and when construction was delayed, they plugged their new venture into the circuit they knew best: festivals.
“We did Camp Flog Gnaw, Coachella, Stagecoach, all these fun places — so you could only have Monty’s in one really cool place for the whole summer of 2018,” Ms. Jiaras said. Festivals have proven to be ideal for developing their map. “You get real-time feedback from people,” Mr. Adler said. “You can see it in their faces.
When the Riverside location and another branch in Koreatown opened in late 2018, ideas from the music industry continued to shape strategy. “We use the word ‘anti-marketing’ a lot – and I think you see it more in the music business, of not going the traditional route,” said Mr. Adler, 49. “We’re more of the street crew coming out around the corner, handing out a cool flyer.” (Monty’s estimates he distributed a million stickers.)
“We treated Monty’s almost like you would treat a young band you found at a 300-person club that was selling out,” he said. “We didn’t put a lot of effort into trying to get the culinary world to love Monty’s. Our goal was to endear Monty’s to musicians, skateboarders, fashion people and dog lovers.
When Ms. Jiaras described the opening of the Koreatown location, it sounded more like a thumping nightclub. “There was a huge line to get in, Nic was working the door, I was jerking, there were long days,” she said. “It felt like we were working on a show.”
The founders also give credit to a vegan community which, as Ms. Jiaras said, is “scrutinizing for a new restaurant” and has only recently had compelling alternatives to the beloved traditional cuisine, including options who are not presented as puritanical, or even wholesome. . Mr. Adler, who has been a vegan for 25 years, has spent much of his career cultivating a community through Nic’s and the Eat Drink Vegan Festival. “I’ve helped bring influencers to the plant scene,” he said.
“Over time, Monty’s has gone from a place where vegans go to a place where everyone goes, and now probably more non-vegans than vegans,” Mr. Adler said. This crossover appeal has grown thanks to mouth-watering innovations like Impossible and Beyond Meat.
Their concept comes at a time when consumers — especially Gen Z — are increasingly interested in plant-based foods. The Good Food Institute, a global non-profit organization working to accelerate innovation in alternative proteins, reported that sales of plant-based foods increased almost twice as much as food of animal origins in 2020, with plant-based meat cited as the fastest growing category behind milk and dairy alternatives.
“Monty’s has really embraced this concept and inspired people through branding and great food,” said Taylor McKinnon, one of the founders of Mr. Charlie’s, a recent make the headlines in addition to the plant-based fast food landscape in Los Angeles. “They gave people a reason to think about being plant-based. If there were no Monty’s, I don’t know if Mr. Charlie’s would exist.
Mr. Charlie’s joins a growing field of fast-casual vegan burger chains in Southern California, but so far only Monty’s enjoys celebrity public support (which may change, because Kevin Hart and Leonardo DiCaprio recently announced investments in plant-based burger chains). Many high-profile fans, like Finneas, Travis Barker and Vince Staples, are doing custom shake collabs, with $1 of each donated to animal charity. (Mr. Barker, a longtime friend of Mr. Fold, received a percentage of the company when it was founded.) Some stars are also developing custom products with Monty’s.
“Merchandise has always been important to me as an individual,” Ms. Jiaras said. “It was important that people had something to take home that would represent a good feeling they had at Monty’s and be part of their lives.” By volume, Monty’s sells more burgers and shakes than merchandise (about 1,200 burgers a day across all locations), but it generates more revenue from apparel, the company said.
The team is very attentive to fashion trends. “It seems like light baby hearts and colors have been very large over the past year, so we wanted to incorporate them into everything,” Ms. Jiaras said of a recent drop. “And when we saw the rise of vintage Harley Davidson t-shirts, we wanted to do something with lightning bolts.”
Monty’s does little traditional marketing, although it installed 15 billboards in Los Angeles last year. But the founders – who are all Disneyland sidekicks and have modeled their guest experience on the theme park, including a birthday pin – say they struggle with the brand that goes beyond food. They tried to put a blank photo of the burger on the billboard, but they felt like it got lost. They replaced it with a photo of Monty.
“We’ve finally come to see Monty’s as a platform,” said Ms. Jiaras, who has a large following on TikTok, where she regularly fashion magazines and weighs on news of the times. For a channel that has thrived on social media, visuals are paramount, and Ms. Jiaras and Mr. Adler constantly analyze how the brand is tagged.
In the beginning, Instagram was how they knew they were onto something. “We had an idea that we were going to have some success when we saw suitcases coming into Monty’s,” Mr. Adler recalls, of the place becoming a must-stop in Los Angeles.
Shortly after, there was the “Instagram photo dumphe said, referring to the trend of posting a slideshow of everyday images, from the neat to the mundane. “We started seeing pictures of Santa Monica Pier, Disneyland and Monty’s,” he said.