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   Jim Catano | Veg Business Plan

Top Secret Veg Business Plan--Do NOT Disclose!

by Jim Catano

OK, first I'll ask your forgiveness for the tacky attempt at reverse psychology. Obviously, I'm hoping you WILL share this concept. You may know (or even be) someone with the contacts or financial resources (and heart) to help launch a new "veg venture."

What follows is an idea that's been taking shape in my head over the past eight years. I've looked quietly for people to help kick it off, but it hasn't happened. So now, here it is for anyone to see. My confidence in the ultimate triumph of truth in the universe tells me that when the right people see this, it will happen. What follows is an informal version of a marketing overview for a business with earth-altering potential.

The Market

People who attempt to avoid eating animal products have few options at today's fast-food and other chain restaurants. Dining out for them is often a frustrating experience.


However, vegetarians are NOT alone! Those who want healthier, organic, GMO-free, or even just safer foods have few choices. Others who'd enjoy getting out of the modern American "burger, pizza, taco, sandwich, chicken" rut have few options, as well. People of certain religious faiths--orthodox Jews, Muslims, Adventists, Hindus, etc.--also have to exercise caution when eating out. Finally, the largest market consists of those who desperately want to find tasty food that doesn't make them fat, and that includes the 60+% of Americans who are already overweight.

The Concept

All these folks would find what they're looking for in a chain of vegan quick-serve restaurants. "Vegan" means the menu consists entirely of items made without meat (including fish or chicken), dairy, or eggs.

This idea will work if the food is good. Correction--It will only work if the food is great! Menu items need to be simple but tasty. Fortunately, those recipes already exist and are being enjoyed in homes and small-scale restaurants throughout the country. In this venture, regional commissary kitchens will do most of the preparation, and the stores (that's industry-speak for individual restaurants) will do more mixing, warming and serving than cooking.

The food, by its nature, is typically low-fat and very healthy, but it can also be delicious and "fun." It may include look-alikes (meatless burgers, etc.), a range of ethnic selections (Southwest/Mexican, Indian, Italian, Asian and others), and some ultra-healthy raw items.

The "quick-serve" format (costumers order, pay, take a marker, sit down, and food is brought to their tables) will work best. I also envision a drive-through window for picking up take-out orders or for ordering from an abbreviated menu of quickly available items.

The Company Structure

OK, this might get a little radical at this point (as if it wasn't already, right?), so please be patient.

This type of food is simply more expensive than the factory-farm-grown, mass-produced fare found in typical chains. However, the venture will be more successful if prices can be kept fairly close to those of the competition. So how do we pull off such a trick?

1--Find investors for whom earning huge profits is NOT the primary motivation. The company might pay out dividends only up to a certain point, and excess profits could be used for increased expansion or to further reduce costs. This will require finding investors who are willing to accept maximum returns closer to what they might get from conservative investments but who are also willing to tolerate all the downside risk of putting money into a start-up business. Cause-focused, altruistic, wealthy people don't grow on trees, but they're out there. Do you know some?

2--Find executives who are NOT greedy. There should be a reasonable expectation of a good income for talented execs and management, but (taking a cue from Ralph Nader) the company will bring aboard people who are willing to work for salaries that don't climb beyond multiples of those of the entry-level employees. I have a scale in mind. It's still flexible, of course, but the CEO will NOT be earning a thousand times more than the kids wiping tables. The concept will work BEST if this is not a typical American company.

3--Pay the entry-level staff MORE than the industry standard. Now I hear you asking, "Catano, are you on drugs?" However, a better-than-standard basic wage will allow hiring the best employees. For example, vegetarian or "green" oriented high school and college students (and there are many, their numbers are growing, and they're typically quite sharp) will want jobs because they'll be able to earn a decent wage and be part of something they can believe in. As a result, motivation will be high and productivity far above average. I have several other ideas for incentives, but those can wait. This is, after all, just a summary.

4--Give away LOTS of money. "Alright," you're moaning, "Now we think you're delusional!" But if this venture can begin to donate a generous percentage of profits to organizations that promote the principles on which it's based (meatless living, sustainable agriculture, and environmental improvement), it will generate a network of synergistic forces that will lift it to much higher levels than if it were merely someone's goose that lays golden eggs. Tom Chappell, the CEO of Tom's of Maine who wrote "The Soul of a Business," has already proven over the long haul that the concept of "managing for profit AND the common good" is profitable--for EVERYONE!


Being a marketing guy, I know just a little about this topic, and good marketing is THE most important key to success. Great ideas that aren't taken to the world and made to look inviting go nowhere. On the contrary, mediocre ideas can be very successful if properly marketed. This concept is a great idea that will be wildly successful with great marketing.

The most important factor is to develop the cross-over market. Vegetarians and other "green" people will come as soon as they know about us. We won't need to advertise very much to them. The trick is to get people who usually visit Wendy, the Colonel, or Ronald McDonald to give us a try. I've roughed out several ads that will make the "come-check-us-out" message both funny and compelling. There will be lots to emphasize in advertising. For example, we'll probably be able to boast having the cleanest restaurants on the planet.

Others will try to imitate part or all of our formula, and that competition will be welcomed. Imitation will confirm the validity of our concept and make us the standard for comparison. However, by being first to appear with great food and a workable formula, this venture has the potential of dominating its niche for a long time.


I've laid out some fairly revolutionary ideas. Am I flexible? Sure. Can this be done successfully if its structured as a standard American venture? Probably. But if the ideas above are taken as an organic whole, it has the best chance of building the momentum of a sweeping social trend.

Will this be just another food fad? I don't think so. Studies show that the vast majority of people who adopt a healthier, planet-friendly lifestyle demonstrate a lasting commitment over the long term. They'll form a loyal customer base and our unpaid sales force. Furthermore, this venture may prove to be the best way to entice a large slice of America to stop committing "suicide by fork."

Can we avoid the pitfalls encountered by a few small ventures based on similar concepts that have been tried? Yes, but I'd need too much space to fully answer that. Briefly, however, the plan is to remain true to the founding principles and humorously educate the clientele rather than compromising in a misguided effort to gain marketshare by trying to imitate competitors. Also, by locating the stores only in prime locations, expanding only as adequately funded, and successfully targeting and attracting the huge cross-over market, many of the problems of other "veg-trepeneurs" can be overcome.


A business that works along these lines WILL happen. It will most likely start as a regional effort in a major metropolitan area and then grow nationwide. It may even go international. It's simply an idea that's time has come. And because of several converging social trends--from lifestyle simplification to concern about the worldwide spread of diseases like Mad Cow--it will happen sooner rather than later.

I also believe if the venture incorporates most of what I've outlined above, it will succeed best. That's, of course, IF you accept a slightly non-standard definition of "success."

Personal Note

Of course, I'd love to participate directly in such a venture (probably as marketing director), but even if I don't--because people steal others' ideas all the time--I'd still be glad. There'll be somewhere I can always eat out, and America will be a better place for it.

Please feel free to copy and share this in its entirety. In the honor system, that's your end of the deal. And please let me know what you think. I'd be very interested.

Jim Catano


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