I recently had the opportunity to sit down with the CEO of one of my longtime favorite veggie-centric restaurants, Veggie Grill, and chat with him about everything VG from their summer menu to their rapid expansion to what their food philosophies are as a healthy restaurant chain.
We had a blast and I got to try so many different dishes from their ever-evolving menu. I was pretty much in food heaven, and I had to try extremely hard not to eat too much of any one dish so I could keep trying things, and also so I could save room for their heavenly carrot cake. #duh
Greg Dollarhyde is VG‘s CEO a.k.a “chief energizing officer,” which is probably the most fitting term I have ever heard. Greg’s energy and passion for Veggie Grill, the west coast’s largest vegetarian chain, was displayed from the very moment I sat down with him. Not only was he cracking jokes right away, but he hopped up from the table every few minutes to make sure everything in the restaurant was running smoothly. He also made sure I had a fresh, refilled iced tea in my hand, two different flavors that they offer, every time my drink started to get a little low. (I drink really fast, and their iced green tea is basically a beverage from the God’s. So damn good.)
His passion for the restaurant was obvious to me from the get-go, and it made immediate sense to me why Veggie Grill is thriving above many other veggie-centric restaurants — it’s not just about the food, it’s about the vibe, the team behind it, the food philosophy and so much more. VG is a “veggie positive” restaurant, meaning that although the food is 100% plant-based, it does not alienate any particular type of person or eater. I feel very comfortable there eating as a non-vegan just like I felt comfortable and happy there when I was vegan. There is something there for everyone, and they don’t push the plant-based lifestyle on their customers. Instead they focus on serving delicious plant-based food rich with flavor, texture and variety.
Also, VG isn’t Greg’s first go-round in the restaurant business. He has been executive chairman / chief executive of huge restaurant chains Baja Fresh, Pizza Hut, Zoe’s Kitchen and more. So I imagine getting into the healthy, vegetarian world of Veggie Grill was probably a really fun change of pace for him — and he agrees that by eating so much vegetarian food (at least one meal a day from the restaurant, if not more) he has seen very noticeable changes in his health. “More energy,” he said. “I have so much more energy. It’s like an unbelievable zing.”
Veggie Grill focuses on the awesome term “vegolution” (and they hashtag it on Instagram all the time, check it out!), which Greg describes as a veggie-positive awareness. “We didn’t start the vegolution, but we incorporate it into what we do here. It’s not a movement, it’s just an awareness about the fact that fruits, veggies, grains, nuts are going to be better for you than the alternative. You will feel the difference in your health over time.”
Over a delicious meal (MEALS, I should say, because we had so much delicious food) of veggie-rich cuisine, I asked Greg some questions about VG that I have wondered for a long time. Check out our Q&A below, and admire the delicious plant food that we ate while we chatted!
Q&A with Veggie Grill CEO Greg Dollarhyde
Q: I have to ask, since my blog is all about balance and incorporating health into our lives without going overboard. How does Veggie Grill prioritize the balance of health, taste, ambiance, energy and variety?
A: As a restauranteur, the idea is to be inclusive. You can always tell when a restaurant is great because you walk in and see all different types of people from all walks of life, and I believe we’ve mastered that. We do it through food- bold food, clean food, a real variety. We want our food to be not only clean but satisfying. I knew the menu should have everything on it from light, clean, crisp and not spicy all the way over to thick, rich, spicy and gooey. We have this whole matrix of light to heavy, mild to full flavored, etc. You have to be able to cover that pretty well with people so that there is something for everyone. We have a lot of fresh veggies, but they’re not just sitting there roasted in a bowl. We have cauliflower mashed potatoes, fried cauliflower, celery on the side of our buffalo wings and so much more.
Q: What inspired you to get involved with Veggie Grill after so many years in the restaurant business in not necessarily “healthy” restaurant chains?
A: There’s a long-term trend in the United States that started about 10 years ago where people really want this: “make it better for me, but I don’t want to give anything up.” Making it “better” could mean no hormones, no antibiotics, no trans fats, low calorie, low glycemic etc. It depends on the person. People want that but they don’t want to give up taste, flavor and texture. Everyone’s idea of what’s healthy has to be incorporated in the restaurant’s offerings. Everything we have is healthy and plant-based, made of nuts, grains, legumes, veggies and fruit. It’s healthy, but if we did all that and made it all low calorie, no one would come in. We have low calorie options and rich, gooey, “cheesy,” textured options that are not low calorie at all. I wanted to be involved in a restaurant that understood that concept and carried it out– make it healthier, but don’t sacrifice anything.
Q: What kind of health benefits have you experienced since working at Veggie Grill and incorporating so much fresh, plant-based food into your life?
A: Energy. I don’t eat dairy, I don’t eat meat, but I do eat fish. Not eating dairy was such a change for me, it made a huge difference. When I came on board I ate a complete vegan diet for the first four months to see what changes would happen. Immediately my sinuses cleared up, I had more energy, and I haven’t had a cold in 3 years. Eating clean, nutrient dense food, after a while you feel great and you bounce back from stuff. It’s pretty awesome.
Q: What’s your favorite thing on the menu?
A: I eat our food once a day, sometimes twice, so it really depends on the day. One thing I need to have pretty often is the Sonoran Summer Bowl with blackened chicken on top, because I absolutely love it. Also, the quinoa and kale burger is one of my go-to’s. It’s made from scratch in house and we have a new cheese we top it with that is based on fermented tofu and coconut oil that comes from Europe and is way ahead.
Q: Veggie Grill’s customer mission, in a nutshell?
A: We’re just seeking people who are looking to add more veggies, fruits, grains and nuts to the center of their plates…and make sure it’s damned craveable. That is what we do here.
Pretty awesome, right?!
It was so cool being able to sit down with Greg and learn firsthand what works and what doesn’t work in the healthy restaurant business, and also to see what Veggie Grill has grown into over the last several years. I have personally been a fan since my YogaWorks teacher training days in 2011 when I used to frequent the El Segundo location like it was my job. I am so thrilled to see where the restaurant business is moving, and it is SO COOL to talk to a restauranteur who understands the importance of not only variety, taste, flavor and ambiance but HEALTH and the importance of incorporating plant-based foods into our diet.
And yes, although I am no longer vegan I still have a huge spot on my heart for great plant-based restaurants. I eat a lot of veggies, fruits, nuts, grains and legumes, and I stray away from the LABEL of veganism because it was too much for me. In a way, that’s what Veggie Grill does as well. They don’t plaster the word “vegan” all over their menu, and they certainly don’t have the “vegan” attitude I have encountered (sadly) and many other plant-based restaurants. They’re inclusive, they’re veggie positive, and they rock. I am all about it.
And the really cool thing? Through this experience with them, I have learned that I too am “veggie positive.” I understand the vast benefits of living a plant-heavy lifestyle, and I desperately want to see the restaurant culture and our food culture as a whole move in a healthier, more natural and organic direction. Just because I don’t identify as a vegan and because I DO eat meat now because my body needs/craves it in order to function at its highest level doesn’t mean that I am not veggie positive and that I don’t appreciate a good plant-based restaurant!
As Greg says, “You don’t have to be a vegan or vegetarian to be veggie positive.” I could not agree more. I love the inclusivity and the common denominator of health, wellness and delicious taste. If you guys haven’t checked out this restaurant yet, you absolutely have to. VG is the way of the future and I am so excited to see where they go from here!
Another fav on the menu for me is the quinoa power bowl… 15g of protein, and so much goodness packed in with so much flavor! Heaven
Oh, and me diving into the BTLA. I mean, look at that face… Pure bliss.
Have you been to Veggie Grill?! Do you want a Veggie Grill in your city, if you don’t already have one? Tell us below. Would love to hear your thoughts. And check out their awesome menu HERE! It’s un-freaking-real.