PLANTA is elevating plant-based eating, one dish at a time

By Jessica Brill

As diner demand for sustainability and health continues to climb, restaurants are popping up to provide consumers with experiences that exceed customer expectations. With more diners taking a closer look at their protein sources and decreasing meat consumption, restaurants are seeing more flexitarian, vegetarian, and vegan visitors come through the doors. Some of the drive for this demand stems from the increased attention that the foodservice industry has been receiving from the media. And that’s exactly what inspired PLANTA’s creation.

Steven Salm, PLANTA founder and CEO, watched a popular documentary called ‘Cowspiracy,’ highlighting the impact of animal agriculture on the environment, and that changed his outlook. The documentary had such a profound impact on Salm that he converted his lifestyle, adopting a plant-based diet and incorporating plant-based items on the menus of his four restaurants.

Once Salm began to enjoy living a plant-based lifestyle, he decided to sell the original four restaurants to create a brand-new concept – and PLANTA was born. Created in 2016, PLANTA first opened in Toronto, designed to expand the accessibility and acceptability of plant-based dining, turning it into an unguilty pleasure.

Today, the flexitarian market is growing, up seven per cent in 2023 from the previous year, and research indicates that the number of people who identify as vegan has risen 600 per cent in the last three years. While much of the restaurant world is adding a vegetarian burger or salad with vegan protein to the menu, some operators  – like PLANTA – are stepping up to create alternative dishes that are just as delicious and flavourful as meat-based alternatives.

The PLANTA way

PLANTA prioritizes genuine sustainability, which means enhancing and improving the planet for each individual. To that end, the company places people at its core, from team members to suppliers to existing and potential future customers. With the desire to positively impact the lives of everyone they encounter, this philosophy starts in-house with comprehensive training and a focus on fostering career development opportunities for their teams.

PLANTA’s mission is to reimagine, reinvent, and revitalize the plant-based dining experience, providing flavourful proof that the power of plants can change the world – and it delivers!

On the menu

PLANTA has now grown to include 20 locations (in Toronto and across the United States) all offering a different experience, with unique cuisines, in each of its restaurants. At the PLANTA Queen location in Toronto, the focus is exclusively on Asian-inspired flavours, featuring dishes like the Dragon Roll, Spicy Shitake Dumplings, and Dan Dan Noodles. At the PLANTA Cocina location (in Washington, DC), the inspiration comes from Latin dishes such as Queso Fundido, Baja Mushroom Tacos, and Robata-grilled specialties. PLANTA in Yorkville (Toronto) is considered to be more of a “cuisine-agnostic iteration,” according to the PLANTA team, featuring pizza, pastas, burgers, and several variations of sushi – popular among guests across all of their restaurants.

While each location concept has an element of Asian cuisine as an homage to chef David Lee’s culture and roots, the variety offers something for everyone looking to enjoy delicious plant-based cuisine, no matter what you’re craving.

Some of the more drool-worthy items on the menu include the Bang Bang Broccoli, Spicy Tuna Roll, Udon Noodles, Crispy Rice, and Torched and Pressed Rolls, but the menus are extensive, featuring an array of craveable, plant-based apps, entrées, cocktails, and desserts.

The restaurants also offer monthly exclusive menus featuring partnerships with like-minded brands to offer something new and generate excitement around limited items. In March, they partnered with Fancy Peasant, and their Greek Extra Virgin Olive Oil helped create the perfect Mediterranean spread.

Keeping seasonality in mind, the PLANTA menus rotate to provide dishes that guests savour and experiences that have them coming back for more. To achieve this, the team is constantly monitoring the latest food trends to incorporate fresh and innovative options, striving to use in-season and local fruits and vegetables.

A healthier planet

Created out of the desire to elevate vegan fare while positively impacting the planet, how do sustainability goals drive the business forward? According to PLANTA, “Our commitment to sustainability revolves around thinking long term, which includes making our footprint as small as possible, allowing vegans and non-vegans alike to enjoy an entirely plant-based meal.”

Based on their belief that enjoying just one plant-based meal lessens some stress on the environment, PLANTA’s commitment is multiplied thousands of times each day as guests dine at any of the restaurants and virtual kitchens. ‘Every guest is helping us contribute to a better planet’ is a philosophy that helps PLANTA to deliver healthy, sustainable dishes to their diners.

Restaurants play an important role in the health of the planet and have an important impact on the environment, from takeout containers to energy usage to food waste. “Prioritizing the planet is more than just a mantra, sustainability is a commitment and passion for us. It motivates our every move,” say PLANTA teams. Their efforts are evident in the restaurants’ eco-friendly atmosphere and the fact that their takeout packaging is made from 100 per cent compostable materials. As part of their environmentally friendly efforts, they are working towards a paperless and reduced waste environment by eliminating paper cheques, printed materials, disposable water bottles, and coffee cups. PLANTA also ensures that all of the produce and supplies are delivered in reusable containers, holding their partners to a higher standard, too.

Food waste continues to be a growing concern for much of the planet. Studies show that Canada throws out about 60 per cent of the food produced, translating to millions of tonnes of wasted, edible food. In today’s economy, food scarcity is a very real concern, as consumers watch their pennies and food bank lines get longer.

These levels of food waste create 124.5 billion pounds (the equivalent of 17.3 million cars) of greenhouse gases annually, as the food rots in landfills. As part of their efforts to create a healthier planet, many of the menu items at PLANTA feature zero-waste ingredients, helping to reduce landfill levels and eliminate food waste wherever possible.

Their menus are also doing their part to save the planet, reflecting seasonality, and featuring local produce to reduce the impact of long-haul transport. Studies show that 11 per cent of food production-related greenhouse gas emissions come from transportation. To help combat this, several PLANTA restaurants operate rooftop gardens (where climates permit) supplying locations with many of the fresh fruits and vegetables used in the dishes and adding a greenspace to the neighbourhood.

The future is green

PLANTA continues to make strides toward lowering its carbon footprint while offering a delicious plant-based dining experience. “We believe the power of plants will change the world. We’re always experimenting with and learning more about plants to discover how they can nourish, inspire, and sustain us and our planet,” the PLANTA teams confirms. As they continue to strive for a healthier tomorrow, PLANTA is committed to improving the guest experience, leaving the earth a better place, and offering premier hospitality in plant-based dining.

This article was originally published in the spring/summer 2024 edition of CRFN magazine.