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Restaurateur Interview Series: T.K. at Veggie Grill

Restaurant: The Veggie Grill
Many locations across Southern California

Owner: T.K. Pillan, Co-Founder

Is this your first restaurant?
Yes, Veggie Grill was my first restaurant, but we’ve now opened seven.

If no, what made you decide to open a vegetarian/vegan restaurant?
I’ll answer this anyways. We started The Veggie Grill because we had a personal passion for (1) the need for delicious, wholesome, convenient food and (2) the opportunity to show people how delicious plant- based food can be.

What has been your greatest professional success and your biggest setback?
Having started an e-commerce development firm in the mid-90’s, I experienced a lot of business success during the Internet boom and a big setback during the subsequent bust. Since starting The Veggie Grill in 2006, we’ve been very fortunate to have been embraced from our start.

What’s your favorite dish on the menu?
I cycle through our menu items, but the ones I come back to most often include our Grillin’ Chickin’, Bayou Chickin’ and Carne Asada sandwiches, our VG-Cheeseburger and our All Hail Kale salad (featured below).

What’s the most popular appetizer on the menu? Our Sweetheart Fries

Most popular entrée? Santa Fe Crispy Chickin’ sandwich

Most popular dessert? Carrot Cake

How often do you change your menu items? Do you have daily or weekly specials? How do you choose those specials?
We are always working to improve upon our menu with new items, but it takes a lot of testing and evaluation to come up with something we think is worthy of changing our menu. We probably update our menu about once a year.

Do you have gluten-free, soy-free, and sugar-free options on your menu?
We have gluten-free and soy-free menus that are available on our website.

Do you use eco-friendly packaging? What else do you do to reduce your environmental impact?
Yes, all our packaging is made with recycled and/or recyclable materials.

We also:
• Use reconstituted bamboo for our floors and Kiri for our counters (both are extremely fast-growing and highly sustainable timbers)
• Use 100% reusable, zero waste mini-tanks to serve our wine
• Limit the use of paper & plastic for in-restaurant guests
• Recycle whenever possible

If you could eat at any vegan restaurant in the world where would it be?
Is this a trick question? Veggie Grill of course.

Do you have any advice for those wanting to start a vegetarian/vegan restaurant?
Be very careful. I was blessed to find great partners, and between us we were able to bring the capital and combined skill sets needed to be successful. The odds for success in the restaurant business are low for a reason – there are a lot of components that need to be thought through and managed well, starting with food and service, but also very important are location selection, restaurant design and financial management.

Thank you T.K. for taking the time to share with us about the Veggie Grill, which happens to be one of my personal favorites in Los Angeles. Hope you enjoyed learning more about the restaurant chain that is taking the world by storm! If you are a restaurant that would like to be featured in the HappyCow Restaurateur Interview Series please send us an email!

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