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Crain's Chicago Business


These veggie restaurants are aimed at meat eaters

Chicagoans are finally getting healthier fast-casual restaurants with lots of vegetarian options.

The move, industry players say, is the result of years of gradually rising consumer expectations, combined with an increasing awareness of the environmental impact of eating meat and a few high-profile athlete endorsements for good measure. New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady, for example, just came out with a nutrition book that partially attributes his longevity as an NFL quarterback to a diet filled with 80 percent veggies. 

"Brady's the most high-profile, but now (Green Bay Packers quarterback) Aaron Rodgers is saying he's gone mostly vegan, and a lot of NBA players are switching over to plant-based diets, too," says Steve Heeley, CEO of Veggie Grill. "Most people intuitively know that we probably shouldn't be eating a lot of red meat."

By the end of this year, Heeley's vegan fast-casual chain will debut several restaurants in Chicago, including locations in Lincoln Park and the Loop.

Though the menu from Irvine, Calif.-based company contains no meat, "80 percent of our guests are not vegan or vegetarians," says Heeley. "They're just people who have made conscious decisions to incorporate more veggies, grains and nuts in their diet."

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