ENCINITAS — A vegan fast-food restaurant has opened its second location in Encinitas, converting what was once a well-known eyesore into a sleek community watering hole.
Plant Power opened its doors two weeks ago in a refurbished-wood-and-slate building on Santa Fe Drive that was previously occupied by a long-vacant 76 gas station that had fallen into bad disrepair.
The San Diego-based restaurant opened its Ocean Beach location in January 2016 and specializes in burgers, fries, wraps, tacos and other fast food staples, but made without animal products, GMOs or artificial ingredients.
Think “McDonald’s for vegans,” representatives said.
Plant Power’s menu includes “fun” food like the Big Zac, with its take on a vegan McDonald’s Big Mac and named after co-owner Zach Vouga.
“Encinitas was an obvious choice, a truly enlightened community, tons of yoga practitioners, musicians, organic gardeners, surfers and in general highly educated and successful yet well rounded folks,” said Mitch Wallis, Plant Power’s co-owner and chief executive officer. “We have barely been able to catch our breath and keep up with the demand since our soft opening we did not anticipate the instant and overwhelming response, but we are extremely grateful to be so well-received and strive to meet and exceed expectations every daily.”
On Aug. 9, an employee who said she was the Encinitas location manager, confirmed that the restaurant was “very busy” since the opening.
Outside of the restaurant, cherry tomatoes and zucchini emerge from planter boxes made of refurbished wood. Two women approached the restaurant to eat, only to realize store opened at 11 a.m. as part of the soft opening.
“We were thrilled to see that someone was going to turn this into a nice business,” said Valerie Swink, who has lived in Encinitas for 32 years. “The architects did a great job.”
The building is a stark contrast to the abandoned gas station, which city officials said had been abandoned for more than two decades. Wrapped in a tattered green tarp and a chain link fence, the building attracted homeless people and litter.
City code enforcement admonished the property owner numerous times about the state of the property, only to see it fall in disrepair once more.
Bruce Hochman purchased the property at 411 Santa Fe Drive from Robert Hall and the Elisse Trust in 2008. He originally wanted to build a two-story medical-office building there — and received approval for a 10,000-square-foot one in June 2013 — but when the market for the building turned sour, he leased the property to JPMorgan Chase Bank.
The banking giant was poised to build a branch on the grounds, plans for which the city approved in 2013, but the bank pulled out of the project in 2015 after completing a long-anticipated site environmental cleanup.
Hochman then subleased the property to a trio of businessmen and restauranteurs, and shortly thereafter, a sign emerged on the property that the vegan fast food concept would be “coming soon.”
The city, Wallis said, was responsive and worked with the company every step of the way, except when it came to the 76 sign that stood on the property. Wallis said they wanted to keep it and convert it into public art, but the city refused to entertain the idea.
“Other than that, it really was a fair and reasonable process,” Wallis said. “They have high standards, but as we showed them our willingness to comply they responded in kind.”
The company’s commitment to environmental sustainability extends to the design and materials used in the building.
Designed by San Diego-based Hubbell & Hubbell Architects, the building includes reclaimed materials and green design standards.
“They are true pioneers and they were extremely involved with all phases of the project well beyond the design phase and into all aspects of the construction,” Wallis said. “We could not have done it without their expertise and diligence.”
Swink said the difference between the site before and after was stark.
“It was so horrible, it was an absolute eyesore,” she said. “And healthy fast food is so important for the community.”
Tony Kranz, a city councilman and longtime resident, said that he hopes that the restaurant succeeds.
“I’ve heard positive reviews about the menu, and it will be interesting to see if the concept can work,” Kranz said. “If there is a city where it can, it’s Encinitas.”