Updated January 26, 2021. A new restaurant incubator called Plant Food Lab just opened in Washington, D.C. A plant-based burger restaurant will be the first concept to be incubated, and an all-vegan deli will come later this year.
Founded by chef Margaux Riccio and restaurateur Shaun Sharkey, who both also own the award-winning vegan “New Asian” restaurant Pow Pow, Plant Food Lab will allow founders and chefs to test ideas and workshop business models before committing to brick-and-mortar locations.
The pair are currently trialing their first concept in the incubator, former pop-up Bubbie’s Plant Burgers, which they also own. Later this year, Riccio and Sharkey aim to open Bubbie’s in a separate location and use the incubator space for a New York-style vegan deli concept, Cenzo’s Upper Westside.
“Sharkey […] is a creative mind. He comes up with new concepts all the time. More than we’d ever be able to do in one lifetime,” Riccio told LIVEKINDLY.
“As for me, it’s a way to attract sous chefs that are of a higher caliber, as I’m able to offer them a chance to run their own concept in the incubator without the struggle we went through to open our first restaurant,” she added.
“Imagine coming up in the industry and being allowed to see your vision come to life without the worry of finding investors first,” said Riccio.
Burgers and Italian-style deli food
The Americana-themed Bubbie’s serves plant-based burgers made from seitan and beetroot, chicken patties, and hot dogs with bacon, dairy-free cheese, and various sauces and dressings. Riccio, the head chef at both Pow Pow and Bubbies, creates all the proteins herself in-house.
Plant Food Lab will also stock products from Vertage, Riccio’s wholesale business, which produces and supplies other restaurants with vegan cheese and meat. Customers will be able to buy these products on-site at the incubator, including her popular muenster, gouda, feta, blue cheese, Oaxaca, and more.
While Cenzo’s will be separate from Vertage, the wholesale business will be the main supplier for the upcoming vegan deli concept. Currently, Riccio makes her own pastrami, bacon, burgers, chicken, ham, and prosciutto.
She told LIVEKINDLY that she plans to make food inspired by the Italian delis she grew up with. The “NY style modern Italian deli and pasticceria” will serve sandwiches, pastries, and espresso, along with freshly made pasta and pizza.
“I plan to match dry-cured meats and cheeses that mimic what you’d find in any deli,” she said.
‘Now is a perfect time to highlight plant-based food’
Demand for vegan food —and vegan meat, in particular — is on the rise. During the second quarter of 2020, in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic, California’s Beyond Meat tripled its supermarket sales. While many fast-food restaurants of varying sizes and themes added a wide range of new vegan options.
“We believe this is our time to stand out in the culinary world,” said Riccio and Sharkey. “People identify as flexitarian more now than ever, leading the way for chefs to highlight plant-based food for what it is, great food, no qualifier necessary.”
“For us, it’s about showing that plant-based foods are desirable dishes,” they added. “As we see the ongoing environmental impact of an Omni diet, coupled with covid is shining a light on our supply chain issues. Now is a perfect time to highlight plant-based food. It is the future of food.”
Bubbie’s offers delivery and pickup across D.C., with expanded opening hours coming soon. Customers can order vegan food via the website, using a QR code at the restaurant, or through delivery apps. Cenzo’s Upper Westside will launch at Plant Food Lab around fall 2021.