Plant-based eating is quickly taking root in the fast-food industry as the COVID-19 pandemic drives more people to become ethical, environmentally conscious consumers. At the forefront of this movement is Odd Burger, one of the world’s first vegan fast-food chains to offer products modelled after its traditional competitors. While many restaurants were left to grapple with the devastating effects of the pandemic, Odd Burger’s restaurant model was already designed to better assist consumers during this dynamic time, leading to its momentous growth and continued expansion across North America.
Founded by James McInnes in 2014, Odd Burger (formerly known as Globally Local) started out as an organic produce delivery service. One year later, McInnes partnered with his wife, Vasiliki, and they transformed Odd Burger into a vegan meal-kit business.
“It was an awareness of what I was consuming,” says Vasiliki McInnes, co-founder and COO, Odd Burger. “The fact that they were once living animals and now being consumed – I just couldn’t do that anymore.”
The husband-and-wife duo garnered attention at Ribfest in London, Ont. where their Famous Burger, a vegan spin on the Big Mac, sold out due to overwhelming demand. After the launch of a food-truck concept, the McInnes’ opened their first vegan fast-food restaurant in 2017 in London, Ont. Six months later, they opened the world’s first 24-hour vegan drive thru. The following year, the McInnes opened a facility to manufacture a portion of their products using locally sourced and sustainable ingredients.
Fast forward to 2022, Odd Burger already has locations in Toronto, Windsor, Vaughan, Waterloo and Hamilton, Ont. The company is currently in the process of doubling its presence, with additional franchised locations set to open this year in Toronto, Ottawa, Brampton, Ont., Whitby, Ont., Calgary, Alta., Victoria, B.C., as well as its first U.S. location in Manhattan, N.Y.
As part of its expansion plan, Odd Burger aims to open a manufacturing facility in each region it operates. “We manufacture about 29 products. These products are primarily plant-based proteins and sauces,” says James McInnes, co-founder and CEO of Odd Burger. “As we expand our business, our goal is to set up a production facility as close to our restaurants as possible to avoid [high] shipping and transportation costs.”
The Odd Burger menu offers several kinds of burgers, substituting traditional beef, pork and chicken with chickpeas, oat flakes, tempeh and shredded jackfruit doused in barbecue sauce. Its menu also offers vegan breakfast sandwiches, salads, wraps and desserts.
Devoid of a traditional grill, Odd Burger restaurants are largely automated to increase efficiency and streamline operations with fewer staff. Ranging from 750 to 1,200 sq. ft., new models can seat up to eight people. Odd Burger features self-checkout kiosks, digital-menu boards, automated kitchen displays and cooking technology, such as rapid-cook ovens, auto-filtration fryers and specialized toasters. Its innovative takeout-and-delivery concept has proved its viability in a crisis. In fact, Odd Burger recorded more than $233,000 in systemwide sales in October 2021, marking a 41-per-cent increase over the previous month.
“Our restaurant model has benefitted us throughout the COVID-19 pandemic,” says James McInnes. “We have a small footprint [as] a takeout business, so when the pandemic hit, we just did more takeout. Our staff can be as little as one person because we use the latest technology, which has changed how we make our food. We don’t even have a traditional grill in our restaurants.”
Moreover, permanent restaurant closures over the past two years, combined with surging consumer demand, presented a unique time for franchising opportunities. To fuel its growth strategy further, loans of up to 90 per cent of opening a new Odd Burger location are available for eligible franchisees through the Canada Small Business Financing Program (CSBFP) administered by CIBC. Specifically, franchisees can be granted loans of up to $350,000 for new-store financing and aren’t required to pay interest for six months. Previously, financing options were limited to only 66 per cent of costs.
The cost of an Odd Burger restaurant varies depending on the restaurant size and location, but generally ranges between $500,000 and $800,000, according to Odd Burger’s website. The franchise fee is $35,000.
The McInnes’ are passionate about creating delicious, plant-based food that benefits people and the planet.
“We’re coming in with this new fast-food concept that’s different from other fast-food restaurants [that might not be fully aware of their environmental impact regarding food production, packaging or energy conservation,]” says James McInnes.
To succeed in minimizing its environmental impact, Odd Burger is partnering with franchisees who truly want to help lead the industry to widespread sustainable practices.
“The most important thing is that our franchisees believe in our mission,” he says. “Our business has an ethical undertone, with a focus on the environment and sustainable food choices.”
“On the operational side, we don’t require our franchisees to have prior restaurant or kitchen experience because we’re able to train them in all areas,” says Vasiliki McInnes.
As a fast-growing franchise, the McInnes’ note their biggest challenge has been creating Odd Burger’s training program. They’re aware effective learning can’t be a one-size-fits-all approach.
“Our biggest challenge has been articulating our knowledge to put in our training program that can be replicated and re-produced. It’s an ongoing process because what might be common sense to us might not be for someone else,” says James McInnes. “We’ve spent a lot of time developing and refining training programs and other materials over the last year.”
The McInnes are hungry for a successful franchise system. Their goal is to have 20 Odd Burger restaurants operational by the end of 2022. What they’ve accomplished so far shows they’re on the right track to achieve that goal.
“In some ways, I feel like it’s been a long time coming,” says James McInnes. “We have the right business model at the right time. Now is the time when a lot more people are thinking about the environment, sustainability and the ethical treatment of animals, which is why we’re seeing such incredible growth and interest in our brand.”
By Nicole Di Tomasso