Just in time for grilling season, Maine is experiencing a flurry of activity in the plant-based “meat” sector.

A new veggie burger company just launched. An existing burger company is raising money to fund a subscription vegan butcher service. And a Portland chef is planning to hit the streets this summer in a vegan food truck with a menu heavy in plant-based meats.

These entrepreneurs aren’t alone.

In recent years, vegetarian meats have morphed from a regrettable substitute to a sought-after addition. At the same time we’ve seen the rise of vegan butchers.

Shops that imitate the old-school vibe of a local butcher, but with a plant-based menu have grown in number since 2010, when the first one in the world — The Vegetarian Butcher — opened in The Netherlands. Since then, similar concepts have popped up across the United States and around the world, including The Herbivorous Butcher in Minneapolis, The Butcher’s Son in Berkeley, California, Monk’s Meat in New York City, and YamChops in Toronto, Ontario.

In addition, new vegan meat startups have jumped into the wholesale business bypassing retail all together.

Now the trend is gaining traction here in the Pine Tree State, where we’ve just gained our fourth veggie burger company.

The most recent is run by Tanya Alsberg. Her all-vegan and all-organic Maine Burger Company is only a month old and she’s been surprised by the enthusiastic response.

The first burger from the Maine Burger Company is all vegan and made from chickpeas, beets and red potatoes. Photo courtesy of Maine Burger Company

“The feedback I’ve gotten so far makes me feel like I’ve underestimated the interest,” said Alsberg, who is making and selling her veggie burgers out of the Frinklepod (vegetarian) Farm store in Arundel, which has a commercial kitchen. “I’ve had meat-eaters who’ve tried them and really like them.”

Her burger is made from chickpeas, beets and red potatoes. Within a month or so, Alsberg expects to add a black bean burger and a curry burger. Down the road, she has plans for breakfast sausages and taco crumbles. All her products are gluten-free.

This summer she will sell the Maine Burger Company vegan patties at the Wells Farmers Market on Wednesdays (it opens May 23) and the Kennebunk Farmers Market on Saturdays (it opens May 5).

Meanwhile, the organic Freshiez burgers and taco crumbles are already in more than 20 stores and restaurants in Maine. The company is just a year old, and owner Wes Acker is launching a Kickstarter campaign to raise the capital he needs to fund a planned mail-order service to be called the Meatless Butcher Box; he hopes to take the service nationwide. Each Meatless Butcher Box will feature 16 portions of an assortment of organic plant-based meats. The box will always include burgers, taco crumbles and steak filets with vegan butter, as well as a changing menu of butcher’s specials, such as hot dogs, sausages or jerky.

Another entrepreneur racing to get his product to market is Tony DiPhillipo, who is working to secure a truck and develop his menu so he can get his Totally Awesome Vegan Food Truck on the road in the Portland area by the July 4th holiday. To help guide that menu, he did some market research on Facebook.

“Overwhelmingly, they want decadent vegan food,” said DiPhillipo, a chef who most recently managed the Scarborough Holy Donut and has worked in the kitchen at Flatbread Company and Tony’s Donuts. “They don’t want hummus and an olive plate. They want hamburgers, hot dogs, poutine, grilled sandwiches, melts, Reubens, fish and chips, mac and cheese, and vegan milkshakes.”

Given the feedback, DiPhillipo is planning a menu of pub food and grilled sandwiches with many of the dishes featuring his own plant-based meats. He makes his vegan meats nut-free and gluten-free by using ingredients such as chickpea flour, oat flour and psyllium husks.

“The high protein flours have a really strong binding action,” DiPhillipo said. “I’m getting that dense, chewiness and that flexibility to it. I can cut it thin and make deli slices.”

The Totally Awesome Vegan Food Truck may also sell jackfruit pastrami or a vegan version of fish and chips, where the “fish” is made from seasoned, battered and fried cauliflower steaks.

“They’re going to get that pub food that everyone wants to have,” DiPhillipo said.

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

[email protected]

Twitter:AveryYaleKamila

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