Saxon + Parole/Public
New York-based Saxon + Parole offers diners meat-centric foods and housemade whiskey in an equestrian-themed American eatery. Executive Chef Brad Farmerie is a two-time James Beard award winner and was awarded a Michelin Star in 2003.
Saxon + Parole Goes Viral With the Impossible Burger
Restaurant sees “snowball effect” from guests bringing their friends to try the plant-based burger
Q: Why did your restaurant choose to add plant-based entrées to your menu?
Brad: For environmental impact reduction — meat has a big impact. And, for my own health and my family’s health. We are not vegetarians, but we only eat meat 1-2 times a week. I have always found vegetarian and vegan cooking to be a challenge; some people do it poorly, I like to do it nicely. Many people have preconceived notions of how vegan and vegetarian cooking tastes, and I like to change that perception. For a long time, we had vegan dishes on the Public menu, but they were not called out as vegan dishes.
When I found the Impossible Burger, it hit all three areas: I was excited because it was healthy, it was an environmental impact reduction, and there was a fun challenge in preparing and serving it.
Q: Were there benefits from a business perspective of offering the Impossible Burger?
Brad: Absolutely, the day we rolled it out was very exciting. Impossible’s launch was extremely intelligent, they used good push and pull campaigns, everyone wanted to get their hands on it. We were very proud to be one of the first 5 restaurants in the world that they picked to first serve the Impossible Burger.
Serving it gave us a platform to inform our current guests about issues we cared about, new reasons to engage them in a conversation, and it brought in a lot of new guests. Not only would they come in, they almost always come back with a friend. It was a snowball effect, not just 100 people, but those 100 people would promote on behalf of the Impossible Burger and Public.
When I was first approached by Impossible, I was skeptical, but the product tastes really good. They were open to my professional feedback on texture, taste, and aroma.
Q: Is the Impossible Burger priced the same as similar dishes?
Brad: We’re strange in that regard, my answer might be different from other restaurants. I chose to make less of a profit margin on the Impossible Burger than I do on our regular dishes, even though it cost (at the time) twice as much as ground beef. For most of our clientele, it might be a stretch to put a vegan burger on the menu at a higher price, and we wanted to get it in front of as many people as possible.
Impossible does not want price to be a deciding factor for consumers trying their burger, which means they’ll pursue volume in niche sales for a while before going after the mainstream market once they can lower prices. They can also use sales at places like our restaurant to get feedback. Once it hits the mainstream consumer market, they are planning to be at price parity with conventional burgers.
Q: Are plant-based entrées easier or harder to store, prepare, and serve?
Brad: It stores the same and has the same shelf life as ground beef, because it has the same protein and fat content. It is refrigerated just like beef. Cooking the Impossible Burger takes a bit more skill, because it doesn’t bind together as tightly as ground beef. For the first couple of times, we had to experiment. I like burgers cooked medium rare, but the Impossible burger doesn’t always have the right textural contrast, sometimes the soft inside squeezes out through the crustier outside. It seems to cook at the same speed as beef.
One thing that is very noticeable is the difference in moisture loss. The Impossible Burger loses less than 10% of its moisture while beef loses more, so you can start with a smaller patty than you would with ground beef, and the ending weight comes out similarly. It is a bit harder to tell doneness, but our people have been trained to figure it out.
Q: Did you see an overall sales increase once the Impossible Burger was carried?
Brad: There was a big increase when we first launched it, and then it stabilized and has stayed consistent. Since the launch was so big, in the beginning we limited sales to 50 a night, since it was the cheapest main course on menu. We hit that number a lot in the early days, now we are usually at the 20-30 mark on most evenings.
Q: Do you have insights into whether consumers ordering the plant-based entrées are vegan, vegetarian, or flexitarian?
Brad: We got a lot of vegans and vegetarians in the first 2 weeks. A lot of people who weren’t vegetarian but were curious came too, there was lots of excitement and online buzz, and it’s still those people who are just interested who keep coming back. We have a 95% hit rate of people who love it, and those are almost all omnivores. Most of the people who don’t like it are vegan, because it tastes so much like meat.
We get a lot of feedback from customers about it, it prompts lots of conversations, they really want to talk about it.
Q: Do you have plans to offer more plant-based entrées in the future? Do you see an opportunity to swap out other animal-based ingredients for plant-based ones like butter, cheese, milk, etc?
Brad: We are passionate about the future of food, and try to weave it into what we do. Like Impossible, we take a stance on the environment and health. We are looking at Ahimi (tomato sushi), vegan butters, and dairy-free yogurts. We are also looking for good aquafaba ingredients. We want to be a platform for these kinds of products. Working with a Michelin star chef can provide valuable exposure for new brands, and we can be a culinary guide.
Q: What new plant-based products would you like to see manufacturers develop?
Brad: There’s a vegan faba bean butter from Fora that I like, it’s a one-to-one replacement for butter — sheer simplicity. It’s the same one-for-one with the Impossible Burger; you take out one pound of beef, you put in one pound of Impossible.
Everyone assumes that when Impossible Foods goes into retail it’ll be at Whole Foods Market, but I think they’ll go into Walmart. They are not after the top 20% of consumers, they’re after everybody.
I think the goal for meat analogs is whole muscle replacement with proper striation, texture, and flavor. I tend to favor plant-based products, because it’s harder, and I’m shooting for the top. I want to see a good steak that is completely plant-based.
The Impossible Burger is processed, but it’s like a recipe, I can work it into my recipe. The success of Impossible Foods opened a lot of doors in this space. One example is Nestle buying up Terrafertil and Sweet Earth.