DEAR SANTA:

Could you help me with my vegan holiday wish? It’s simple, really. And for a gent with your considerable talents should be no trouble whatsoever: Lure a vegan fast food chain to Portland, please.

Can you do it?

Sure, Maine’s a remote state with a tiny population, but we do have a year-round tourist economy, which in Portland is fueled by people who love food. And, yes, we’re rugged individualists who aren’t slaves to the trends. But you know what else is rugged? Kale. And Mainers don’t need bumper stickers to get us to eat more of it. Real Mainers just eat it.

The popular guac burger and air-baked sweet potato fries with a lemonade at By Chloe. Photo by Dan Watkins

You have to admit, getting a plant-based fast-food joint in Portland is easier than, say, flying around the globe in one night. (Not to mention the whole chimney business.)

You see, I’ve been an angel all year (like most Mainers). So it’s clear I – no we – deserve this.

Because it’s not only for me. But for everyone in Maine. (OK, maybe just everyone within the Greater Portland metro area and those who occasionally drive through it. But still, this is larger than me.)

And I wouldn’t feel so left out of the vegan fast-food craze if my news feed weren’t blowing up with stories about expanding fast casual chains with vegan menus. Santa, it turns out at least six serious competitors are in the race to be vegan McDonald’s.

The nearest is By Chloe, which has two outposts in Boston – one in the new Seaport district and the other near Fenway Park. Started in 2015 in Greenwich Village by Chloe Coscarelli (the first vegan to win a national TV cooking competition, Cupcake Wars in 2010, and known for guac burgers, cupcakes and ice cream, the chain is no longer associated with Coscarelli but has six spots in New York City (with another coming soon to South Street Seaport) and one in Los Angeles. New By Chloe restaurants are also under construction in Providence and London, where a $13 million investment is underwriting an international expansion, according to Bloomberg.

Pity we don’t have such cash to offer here in Portland, but Santa, I’m confident you can help By Chloe understand how our location and lifestyle more than make up the difference. (You’ll no doubt mention that on the peninsula alone, Portland has seven health food stores.)

The two By Chloe restaurants in Boston sell vegan lobster rolls made with hearts of palm, celery, smoked paprika and fresh dill.

If they can’t be persuaded, perhaps you’ll consider recruiting Earth Burger instead? The San Antonio-based purveyor of vegan cheeseburgers with secret sauce opened in 2014 and recently announced its intention to expand. Two more restaurants are planned in Texas and one is under construction in the Mall of America in Minnesota. Owner Mike Behrend told the San Antonio Express-News in November that sales are rising, and 85 percent of his customers are omnivores.

Sounds like a perfect match for Portland, with our ranks of vegan-ish meat-eaters, but maybe you have other plans. Possibly you view Plant Power Fast Food as the better fit.

One of Plant Power Fast Food’s founding partners told Forbes in November the company is looking to bring its Big Zacs and vegan fish filet sandwiches to additional southern California cities and then wants to franchise nationwide. According to the story, sales at its second store (located in a former Burger King in California!) are set to top $2 million in its first year. Its first location opened in 2016 and isn’t far behind.

But Santa, if arranging for someone to buy and run a Portland franchise gets too complicated, you might consider hooking us up with Veggie Grill. The company, founded in 2007, offers Korean vegan barbecue bowls and the Beyond Burger, THE veggie burger that “bleeds,” topped with smoked vegan gouda and sriracha ketchup.

According to a September piece in Crain’s, the Irvine, Calif.-based Veggie Grill now has 28 restaurants on the West Coast, a restaurant under construction in Chicago and plans to set up shop in Boston.

Could this be it, Santa? Portland is just a hop, skip and quick trip up I-95 from Boston (assuming it’s not rush hour, a holiday, a snowstorm, a summer weekend, or the aftermath of a Patriots game). Santa, don’t you think Portland would be an easy sell to the Veggie Grill executives?

However, you may see it differently. Maybe Santa, you’d prefer to see Portland paired with the veteran in the rapidly growing vegan, fast and casual category?

Native Foods opened its first restaurant in Palm Springs, California in 1994 and now has 14 restaurants serving Southern-fried vegan chicken and waffles alongside burgers and fries at locations in Chicago, California, Oregon and Colorado.

Some Native Food locations even served a full vegan holiday dinner on Thanksgiving this year, which is something Portland could use. Do you think such a restaurant might recognize the opportunity that awaits in the Maine market?

If not, Santa, there is a final option, but it isn’t a proper chain yet, since it consists of a single fast-food restaurant in California (with a second under construction).

Business is brisk at Amy’s Drive Thru, opened in 2015 in California by natural food brand Amy’s Kitchen. Courtesy of Amy's Drive Thru

But it has excellent brand positioning, since Amy’s Drive Thru was opened in 2015 by natural food brand Amy’s Kitchen. The menu is vegetarian with full vegan options. Business has been so brisk at the first location, an Amy’s executive told Fast Company in September that Amy’s Drive Thru is aiming to have locations across the country.

Could Portland be among them?

Or maybe, Santa, you feel a homegrown vegan fast-food joint is the best solution. Portlanders will back you on this. Let us know and we’ll start sharpening our pencils to vote for the new restaurant in Portland Buy Local’s annual Indie Biz Awards.

I’m sure you remember, Santa, how Joe Dobrow writes in his history of the health food industry, “Natural Prophets,” that New England is the second most important center for natural foods, behind Boulder, Colorado. And not only is Portland in New England, but it’s in the state that famous vegetarians Helen and Scott Nearing called home, helping to amplify an eco-friendly, hippie aesthetic you can find scattered throughout Maine today.

In addition to our solid place in the New England health food zone, there are other reasons Portland merits a place on your “nice” foodie list. For one thing, Maine has taken the number two spot (behind Vermont) on the list of most locavore states since 2016. For another, Portland ranks number 10 on VegNews’ Best Towns for Vegan Living list.

Not to mention that our small state is home to a McCain French fry factory, three frozen veggie burger companies, a baked bean factory, what Bon Appetit magazine called “a startling number of first-rate” bakeries, and the only wild blueberry barrens in the United States.

Plus the state has Heiwa Tofu, Lalibela Tempeh, The Whole Almond (a plant-based milk company), Sticky Sweet (a vegan ice cream company) and Yo’Novare (a plant-based yogurt company).

Add in some bulk goods and deliveries from a couple local vegetable farms and Santa, you and I have figured out the entire supply chain.

Plus consider this: While I, like many Mainers, spent much of 2017 cooking organic, local vegetables for my family, the few times I snuck out of my kitchen it was to order more vegetables, such as the tamari-glazed Brussels sprouts from the Green Elephant Vegetarian Bistro or the vegan garlic green beans from Empire Chinese Kitchen or the vegetable-packed vegan pho from Pho Co. in the Public Market House.

(More impressive is what I didn’t eat: I sampled only three – OK, six – vegan doughnuts from Holy Donut this entire year.)

So while Portland may not have a vegan fast-food spot (yet), the city’s restaurants are already catering to people seeking plant-based eats. Lettuce agree: a vegan fast-food restaurant in Portland would be salad gold.

And I’ll tell you how I know. Every time I interview a Maine chef about a new vegan dish he or she has added to the menu, they all tell me the same thing: “I can’t believe how well it sells.”

You know what I believe in, Santa? You. I’m confident you’ll find a way to bring a vegan fast-food eatery to Maine. And then we can merrily (and speedily) order our meat-free burgers and kale in peace.

Merry Christmas,

Avery

Avery Yale Kamila is a food writer who lives in Portland. She can be reached at:

[email protected]

Twitter: AveryYaleKamila