The first time Ash Houghton bit into the vegan breakfast sandwich at Golden West Cafe she was sure someone had made a mistake. “There must have been a mixup,” she said. “This is definitely not allowed.” No, her server assured her. It was vegan.
What the Baltimore resident and long term vegan didn’t know was that the sausage was made with a substitute manufactured by Impossible Foods, a Silicon Valley startup whose vegan soy patties look like meat, taste like meat, and come “the closest I’ve ever had to actual burger meat,” according to Sam Claassen, who owns Golden West Cafe and began serving Impossible Burgers there about a year ago. The burgers are made from textured wheat protein and heme, an iron-containing molecule touted as the burger’s “magic ingredient."
In just a few years, Impossible has become an industry leader in Baltimore and elsewhere in the country.
“It’s good times for vegans,” said Houghton, who now regularly orders Impossible burgers at sit-down restaurants that carry it, like Frazier’s on the Avenue and Rocket to Venus. But the mother of two is looking forward to being able to get the burger at Burger King starting this Thursday, when 7,000 Burger Kings across the country will begin selling the Impossible Whopper.
“It’s so convenient,” she said.
The introduction of the Impossible Whopper at Burger King nearly doubles the number of restaurants that serve Impossible Burgers, and the increased demand has had its drawbacks for some consumers. For the past three months, it’s been near impossible for Golden West Cafe and local other restaurants to get a hand on them.
“People have been getting super bent out of shape about [the shortage],” Claassen said. Her restaurant, she said, is a “little guy," compared with Burger King. Her kitchen temporarily switched to Beyond Meat, another vegan burger substitute. “There’s no starving vegans at Golden West,” Claassen said.
A spokeswoman for Impossible Foods said they had tripled weekly production at their Oakland factory and will quadruple output by the end of the year through a collaboration with OSI Group. “So there should be plenty of Impossible Burger to meet short-term demand,” she wrote in an email.
In the interim, some businesses like Red Robin stopped carrying the burger, while an employee for One World Cafe said they are still waiting to receive their latest shipment.
With a taxidermied moose head on the wall, and skulls and antlers above the bar, Golden West doesn’t look like a restaurant that caters to vegans. But Claassen, who co-founded the city’s Vegan Restaurant Week, has found that offering multiple plant-based options alongside meat is just good business. They sell hundreds of vegan “Mission: Impossible” burgers, loaded with vegan blue cheese, seared Brussels sprouts and buffalo cauliflower, each week, and go 10 cases of the Impossible Burgers each week.
“I think we were one of the first places in Baltimore to sell the Impossible Burger,” said Claassen, who recently became a vegan herself.
By Monday morning, Claassen was happy to report, the Impossible meat was back in stock and ready to be fried up into the restaurant’s breakfast sandwiches and burgers.