Culver City’s Herbie Burger serves plant-based dishes inspired by California
One of the first things that diners will notice at Herbie Burger is that the vegan takeout joint’s picturesque burgers are made with mushrooms and black beans, a special recipe from founder Peter Williams.
“My wife [Erin Harnisch] and I noticed vegan menu items trending toward factory-produced meat replacements and away from house-made items,” said Williams of the inspiration to open his concept in a ghost kitchen in Culver City.
“While we have nothing against products like Impossible and Beyond, and we consume them from time to time, we found ourselves craving veggie burgers and plant-based ‘chicken’ products with fewer, less processed ingredients.”
Williams’ mini cooking space is at the very end of Selmaraine Drive, where a never-ending rotation of Grubhub, UberEats and DoorDash drivers saunter up to the window to grab their deliveries. Customers can also order at the window from a tablet, and Williams has seen his walk-up orders grow from one when he opened on Aug. 1 to 10 orders in recent days.
Also on Herbie Burgers’ menu are tofu-based chicken tenders, crispy oyster mushroom fried "chicken" sandwiches and wings, and vegan mac ‘n’ cheese. Veggie side dishes include vegan elote and charred broccoli, with more additions to come.
The menu is modeled after the items Williams and Harnisch craved most: burgers, fried chicken tenders, wings, and sandwiches. The couple experimented and tested their menu with vegans and non-vegans for about two years before launching their business.
Williams’ spot at the CloudKitchens food hall is temporary until they find a brick-and-mortar space. In the meantime, Williams and Harnisch, who are both producers by trade, have never been busier in their lives, but they are also “so excited and grateful to see something we've wanted to do for so long finally come to life.”
“We wanted to open up quickly and test our concept and refine our menu,” Williams said, who lives in Venice and is browsing the Westside for potential spots.
“So far customer response has been overwhelmingly positive, and the kitchen is starting to see many repeat customers. We've been told repeatedly that our food is unique and highly craveable.”
According to the website Happy Cow, there are more than 200 vegan and vegan-friendly restaurants in Los Angeles, and the city has been labeled the unofficial “city of vegans.” Despite a decent number of vegan burger restaurants on the Westside, Williams believes Herbie Burger offers something unique and flavorful among a sea of fairly similar menus.
Williams didn’t become a vegan overnight; it happened gradually over the course of a decade.
“As my wife and I began to learn more about the unethical treatment of animals in factory farms, the devastating impact that animal consumption has on our climate and environment, and the detrimental effects of animal products on our health, it became harder and harder to ignore what was an inconvenient truth,” he said.
“We transitioned to a pescatarian diet, then a vegetarian diet, but still could not feel good about contributing to the suffering of animals, even if we weren't directly consuming their flesh. Going vegan felt like a really difficult thing to do, and it certainly is not without its challenges and setbacks, but had we known how easy and delicious a vegan diet could be we would not have waited as long as we did to make the leap. We hope our food inspires other people to make the same leap or at least replace some animal-based meals.”
Another bonus at Herbie Burger is that the food not only tastes good, but is pleasing to the eye as well.
“The way our food looks is a reflection of the care we put into making it,” Williams said. “Flavor comes first, but we really want our food to look great, too. We hope to be able to open a space where we actually get to see and interact with our customers as soon as possible, but right now we're focused on getting as many people as we can to try the food and give us feedback so we can continue to improve our product.”
5660 Selmaraine Drive, Culver City