Sometimes you walk away from a Netflix documentary feeling nothing – other times you decide to sell your four restaurants and start one of the hottest new vegan chains.
A week after watching the documentary “Cowspiracy” about the damage of animal agriculture and factory farming on the environment in 2016, alumnus Steven Salm made the switch to a plant-based diet and changed his four restaurants’ menus to consist of at least 25 percent plant-based offerings. Salm noticed an improvement in his health and energy levels and decided to fully commit to a plant-based life, selling his four restaurants and founding an animal-free restaurant chain in 2016, PLANTA, with a new location opening near campus later this month.
Salm said the restaurant’s newest location will open in West End April 26 featuring an Asian-inspired, plant-based menu. The business will be located on New Hampshire Avenue across from the popular bagel spot Call Your Mother. Salm said he is thrilled to bring the chain to the city of his alma mater.
“It was an amazing city and a great campus experience, and it’s so exciting to come back and share this with the D.C. community and touch into the campus life,” Salm said.
Salm, a 2007 graduate of the School of Business, has always had a love for the food industry. He said he worked in various restaurants serving and bartending during his time at GW, and he has cooked since he was a young child on Long Island, New York.
“I was always insanely passionate about food and cooking and entertaining, and it just became part of our lifestyle when we had an apartment on campus,” Salm said in an interview.
PLANTA has 11 current locations – one in Bethesda, two in New York, three in Toronto, one in Chicago and four in Florida. Beyond its upcoming West End opening, PLANTA also plans to expand to Atlanta, SoHo and two California locations – Marina del Rey and Brentwood – in the near future, according to the restaurant’s website.
The D.C. location will be part of the chain’s Asian-inspired “PLANTA Queen” concept, which typically features a variety of Asian noodle dishes, dumplings and sushi, according to its Toronto and Fort Lauderdale menus. PLANTA Queen is one of three lines of PLANTA restaurants – PLANTA Cocina features Pan-Latin-inspired menus, and the original PLANTA concept consists of a more all-encompassing vegan menu.
Salm said he hopes the new restaurant gives diners one of their first chances to try a local, vegan sit-down restaurant.
“I think that PLANTA is going to be a huge hit given both the proximity and the offerings and just our overall engagement that enjoys PLANTA,” Salm said.
He said the restaurant’s menu does not include artificial fake meat or imitation dairy products, instead focusing on whole foods that include vegetables in their natural form, like burgers made out of vegetables and cheese made out of nuts.
Salm said menus are mostly consistent across locations, but some offerings vary based on local produce and in-season items. The PLANTA Queen menu is typically split between brunch offerings like coconut chia pudding and banana waffles, all-day options featuring sushi, noodles and shareable plates and a list of alcoholic beverages featuring sake, cocktails and cider.
“I always get so excited when we introduce new items at every opening,” Salm said. “It’s an opportunity to test and get initial feedback, so we will be introducing a few new salads, noodle dishes and sushi items to this menu.”
Salm said some of his personal favorite dishes include crispy rice, noodle dishes and mushroom and tofu offerings.
He said the “PLANTA model” – three restaurant concepts under one brand – can succeed anywhere, especially as plant-based diets grow in popularity. PLANTA has already garnered national attention, with features in Forbes, The Washington Post and Chicago Magazine.
“The strategy is to identify the markets where we feel PLANTA will most succeed in and just continue to expand in those markets,” Salm said.
He said while PLANTA is entirely plant-based, vegans and carnivores alike can enjoy the restaurant’s offerings.
“We don’t build our restaurants for vegans, we build them for everybody,” Salm said. “If we only had to rely on the vegan population we would probably be out of business.”
Salm said he wanted PLANTA to blaze a trail for vegan restaurants with an upscale, multi-concept business focused on celebrating the power of plants.
“We really focus on making menus delicious, the service really attentive,” he said. “That allows us to build a restaurant that people want to be in, period.”
This article appeared in the April 17, 2023 issue of the Hatchet.