Plantega is making Greenpoint (and the rest of the city) greener, one bodega bacon, egg, and cheese at a time.
Nil Zacharias is a Greenpoint local and the founder and CEO of Plantega, a company that provides plant-based deli meat and other menu items to bodegas and delis in the area.
From his office in Greenpoint, Zacharias developed Plantega as a social experiment that organically (pun intended) created a new model for bodegas with a new style of food that is still “very New York,” according to the founder. He doesn’t want to change bodegas, but instead, empower them to provide more options while empowering the community to choose to eat differently and in turn, eat healthier.
Greenpointers spoke with the entrepreneur about his company, why he started it, and if meat-eaters will really enjoy eating Plantega meals.
Greenpointers: What is Plantega?
Nil Zacharias: At Plantega, we are on a mission to make plant-based food easier to access. We do that with what we call a plant-based deli in-store model. What we offer is a turn-key solution that empowers bodegas and delis to sell plant-based menus.
We give them all of the tools, including training, signage, and products for both in-store and delivery apps. We set them up with distribution. We partnered with plant-based brands. We crafted a menu that mirrors what the delis sell, except ours is plant-based. We provide cooks with all the training and skills they need to prepare the menu. They can keep their same staff. We do quality control. Sometimes we even order a freezer for them.
Bodegas are a channel. They’ve been left out of the sustainable food movement. We are not trying to change bodegas. With this, they can make extra money. Plantega is better for the bodegas, the planet, and the community.
Greenpointers: Which North Brooklyn bodegas currently carry Plantega?
Nil Zacharias: Plantega is currently serving two locations in Greenpoint: Greenpoint Deli & Market and God Bless USA Deli and a few locations in Williamsburg including Bedford Gourmet Deli, Metro Organic Deli, Healthy Way Organic Market, American Metro Gourmet Deli, and American Choice Gourmet Deli.
Greenpointers: What is the most popular thing on the menu?
Nil Zacharias: The number one thing is the chopped cheese. They say chopped cheese was invented in a bodega in the Bronx. We make it 100% plant-based.
We offer a lot of bodega favorites. The breakfast items all do really well, like the bacon, egg, and cheese, and our spicy breakfast burrito.
On delivery apps, we offer a lot more things, like loaded fries and rice platters. We provide bodegas with the basic menu, and then we have a lot more options on delivery platforms. Customers can search Plantega in delivery apps.
Greenpointers: And what’s your favorite Plantega item?
Nil Zacharias: The sausage, egg, and cheese is my favorite. I quit meat about ten years ago and have been craving them.
Greenpointers: Can a Plantega sandwich really satisfy cravings? Will meat eaters actually like what Plantega offers?
Nil Zacharias: We’re not trying to fool people, but we might if you’re not really paying attention. The goal is to try to replicate taste and the general mouthfeel. You will probably know it’s not meat, but it will still satisfy you.
We want to get people to realize they can get the same joy eating what they love, but can make a choice that’s better for environment and their health. We want the food to speak for itself. It’s delicious, and just happens to be plant-based.
Greenpointers: What brands have you partnered with?
Nil Zacharias: We have been very intentional about how we partner with brands. Many are new and emerging brands that are looking to gain traction, and many are not sold in retail stores yet.
One of these emerging brands is Karana, which we use for burgers. The burgers are made from jackfruit. It’s something different, cleaner, and healthier.
We also use Umaro for bacon made of kelp. And for eggs, we use Zero Egg. We are one of the first companies to partner with them. For chicken, we use Daring. Others include WayFare, Wicked Kitchen, Good Catch, Prime Roots, and more.
Greenpointers: Why did you start Plantega?
Nil Zacharias: I was a lawyer and worked in tech, and then, about 10 years ago, I became interested in food sustainability. This is one of the biggest challenge we will face with climate change. I started to learn that if we shift our food system, and get people to choose more plant-based foods, we could make a shift in the right direction.
Plant-based eating is healthier for you and the planet. But, food is complicated. People are complicated. You have to understand behavioral psychology. We are trying to get people to make the right choice without getting them to think they are making the right choice.