A pulled pork burger - without the pork, grilled chicken - without the chicken, and chilli beef - without the beef. There’s even a Hanson halal pack (inspired by Senator Pauline Hanson)! Welcome to Soul Burger, touted ‘Australia’s first gourmet plant-based burger joint’.
The burgers are made to smell, look, and even taste like meat, yet contain no animal products (including dairy, egg or meat). This burger bar uses soy protein as a meat substitute.
Soul Burger founder, Amit Tewari, drew on his medical knowledge to start the vegan fast food chain, believing in the health and environmental benefits of a reduced meat intake.
“I mean, I was a doctor and for anyone with an Indian background or a brown background that is like the epitome of careers” jokes Amit.
“So telling your parents during my third year into med school, that I'm taking a break, and I'm going to take a year off to work at a burger joint and maybe even start my own burger joint ... it was a big deal initially.”
Entrepreneurship is embraced by the Tewari family. Amit’s parents started a second-hand furniture business after migrating from India, and setting up shop in Sydney’s south-west.
“Their story, like that of a lot of migrants, is about arriving in Australia seeking a better life for their children,” says Amit.
“We had cousins in our family still living in India, who weren't able to have medical care. And they had some really, really sad stories. So I look at myself as pretty lucky, that I was born in Australia.”
Amit’s compassion and his desire to be a change maker led him to study medicine, but he soon discovered a burning desire to follow his parent’s footsteps and start his own business.
“I was like 22, and I was basically just a very impulsive young adult,” says Amit.
“I always wanted to start a business, so I figured burgers because I wanted to be somewhere where I could hang out with my friends.
“That was actually the reasoning behind it, and it's a bad business plan,” he says laughing.
Despite Amit’s ‘poor business plan’, he found himself on the right trend. Amit re-launched Soul Burger in 2015 as a plant-based burger joint, and now has four separate businesses across Sydney.
The vegan trend has taken hold in Australia, with market research firm Euromonitor International predicting that, by 2020, Australia's packaged vegan food market will be worth $215 million. This makes Australia one of the world’s fastest growing vegan markets.
However, Amit says his customers aren’t just coming to uphold vegan values, but also for the taste.
“I'm a big believer in not getting vegans to taste test our patties,” says Amit.
“I try to look at the way the vast majority of people think.
“If you walk into the restaurant you'll notice there is no real advertisement of our health or environmental benefits, it's purely focused on taste.
“So can we compete with regular, meat-made patties? And if so, can we compete on pricing and convenience?”
“In terms of dollar cost, we pay almost double the price of a regular animal-protein product. But if you price in carbon impact, sustainability, and if you deduct government subsidies, then animal protein is very, very expensive.”
Reducing meat and dairy consumption are the single biggest way individuals can reduce their impact on the planet, according to InterAcademy Partnership research. It says cattle and other livestock will be responsible for half of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions by 2030.
Researchers also warn that without massive reductions in meat consumption in the western world, efforts to control global warming will fail.
Political leaders are encouraged to promote innovative food like meat–mushroom mixes, lab-grown meat, algae, and even insect-based foods.
Meat substitution is getting more innovative, with one UK supermarket offering a ‘bleeding’ vegan burger that uses an oozing beetroot juice to appear like the real meat deal!
Amit, however, sees innovation for Soul Burger in business growth terms.
“When I look at Soul Burger, I think how can we make it more appealing and cheaper?
“Our advantage is that, when you think of a regular burger joint, the owners can’t start a slaughterhouse, or start a farm, whereas we can literally vertically integrate, and build our patties in-house”.