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T.K. Pillan, Co-Founder of Veggie Grill, on the Secrets to Building a Plant-Based Food Empire

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In this episode, I speak with T.K. Pillan, co-founder of Veggie Grill, the largest all vegan restaurant chain in the United States about his experience building a food business that was named one of the “25 Most Innovative Consumer Brands of 2016” by Forbes.

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About T.K. Pillan

T.K. Pillan is the co-founder of Veggie Grill, the largest vegetarian/vegan restaurant company in the United States. With locations up and down the West Coast and starting to expand eastward. Pillan also co-founded Powerplant Ventures, a $42 million venture capital fund that supports visionary entrepreneurs who are leveraging the power of plants to deliver better nutrition in more sustainable and ethical ways. Prior to entering the food arena, Pillan earned an engineering degree from MIT and co-founded one of L.A.’s first e-commerce development firms

Why You Should Listen

In this episode, I get T.K.’s take on the following:

On Starting a Food Business

  • T.K. comes from a background in the tech space but was inspired to start a healthy, plant-based, fast/casual restaurant after his own experience of trying to eat well while on the road. By and large, T.K. found that healthy, vegetable-centric options were few and far between and what he could find was usually bland and unappetizing. Initially, T.K. based the idea for the chain off of things he would like to see when looking for delicious, healthy options – but it wasn’t as simple as that. Pulling from the business world, T.K. and his co-founder focused on marketing and crafted their branding to appeal to a wide-range of consumers, not specifically vegans or vegetarians. In the interview, T.K. goes into lengthy details about what they did to help grow Veggie Grill to the point where they recently received $22 million in investor funding.

On Building a Solid Team

  • No business can be successful without a strong team. In our conversation, T.K. explains how he helped build the team that now runs the day to day operation of Veggie Grill. He highlights the importance of finding people who supplement your weaknesses in order to create a fortified team that operates with the most efficiency.

On Innovation in the Food Chain

  • As the co-founder of Powerplant Ventures, a $42 million fund that supports visionary entrepreneurs who are leveraging the power of plants to deliver better nutrition in more sustainable and ethical ways, T.K. is always looking for innovation in the food system. In our talk, he highlights a few companies that are transforming the way food is grown, such as Square Roots, and provides more insight into how businesses can balance environmental consciousness and innovation to create really meaningful change in the food system.

People/Companies/Resources Mentioned in This Episode

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