VeganBurg – fast food for the future?

VeganBurg's founder, Alex Tan at the opening of their Marina Bay Financial Centre outlet. (Yahoo! photo)

When foodie Alex Tan first read a report on the environmental effects of livestock in 2009, he knew he had to do his part to save the environment.

A year later, with his wife, Tracy Lim, the couple, even without any prior F&B knowledge, founded VeganBurg, Singapore's first vegan fast food restaurant.

The novel restaurant, which serves food that does not contain any animal products, including milk and eggs, has since grown popular among vegans and non-vegans alike.

Speaking to Tan at Marina Bay Financial Centre for the launch of VeganBurg's third outlet last month, the entrepreneur, who used to be a director of an interior products company, told Yahoo! Singapore about the obstacles he had to overcome.

A drastic change

When the 38-year-old founder became a vegetarian in 1997 because of persistent digestive problems, the biggest challenge for him was giving up his favourite comfort food.

Tan, who enjoys local delicacies such as mee rebus, chicken rice and laksa, used to eat "fear-factor style" before a friend introduced a plant-based diet to him.

Tan confessed that he used to hate vegetarian food, and would do everything he could to avoid it.

"I remember when my colleagues used to eat vegetarian food on the first and fifteenth day of Chinese New Year and I would always tell them to count me out. I would rather skip the meal than to eat vegetarian food," Tan said, chuckling at the thought.

At that time, Tan was still an employee in TAK Product Pte Ltd, handling the company's product design and development, sales and marketing, and advertising and promotions.

It took him a few years to get used to his new diet and, even then, he found that vegetarian food was "always the same" and "boring".

Tan continued to be what he described as a "quiet" or passive vegetarian for more than 10 years, until a report on the damage inflicted on the environment by the livestock industry moved him to action.

Taking a leap of faith

Driven by the environmental concerns, the father of two decided to capitalise on the popularity of fast food in order to offer a wider variety of food for vegetarians, giving birth to the concept of VeganBurg.

"People are still going to continue to consume fast food but what needs to change is the ingredients," explained the passionate founder.

Inspired by his newfound calling, Tan left his job at TAK in 2009 to begin working on his new establishment.

Although Tan did not face much difficulty when it came to branding and product development, being one of the first in the market to offer the novel concept of vegan fast food meant that he would have a tough time sourcing for suppliers.

Tan admitted that he had to travel across Asia to look for suitable suppliers with not much to negotiate with.

To top it off, he and his wife's lack of experience in the food and beverage industry posed many problems for them.

After much experimenting and learning, the first outlet at Jalan Eunos was finally launched on 10 October 2010.

Even during the launch which Tan described as a "low key event with family and friends", he and his friends continued developing and improving their food.

Tan's hardwork has paid off and the company has come a long way since then.

Tan and his team celebrate the success of their third outlet. A total of 611 people lost their "vegan virginity" …

VeganBurg has since opened an outlet at Golden Shoe and, most recently, at Marina Bay Financial Centre, with fans flocking to their outlets around the city.

The husband-and-wife team will be rolling out an outlet at Turf Club on Saturday and another at Orchard Gateway in 2013. They are looking to focus on regional expansion afterwards.

Reflecting on their success thus far, Tan said, "VeganBurg is a healthier and more sustainable option. People can see that it's fast food for the future."

VeganBurg — fast food for the future?

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