Words & Deeds

‘They can’t believe it’: Idaho restaurant’s new Impossible vegan burger is bloody hit

John Hess was skeptical when he wrapped his hands around his first Impossible Burger.

As owner of The Counter, a build-your-own hamburger restaurant at The Village at Meridian, he felt obligated to sample it. Hess, the chain’s Idaho franchisee, had been instructed to put the trial item on his menu.

The Counter already had a veggie burger. Why add this plant-based Impossible Burger?

Dutifully, Hess took a bite. His eyes lit up.

“I couldn’t believe it,” he says. “My staff was just laughing at me, because I was just flabbergasted that it tasted like meat.”

“It’s crazy. This thing looks like meat. It does actually ‘bleed’ like meat. It tastes like meat. You could pass it off at a barbecue as meat.”

Created in Silicon Valley by a company called Impossible Foods, the Impossible Burger wasn’t designed just to fool your taste buds. Using ingredients such wheat, potatoes and coconut oil, it mimics the look, smell and texture of meat.

It definitely has sizzle. Since that day two months ago, The Counter, which opened at The Village in 2014, has enjoyed a resurgence. Word about the Impossible Burger spread among vegetarians and vegans in the Boise area. During the initial launch, lines formed at the door before The Counter opened. “The first five groups would be vegans,” Hess says. “The reception was phenomenal.”

“It’s almost been like a grand reopening,” he says. “We’ve had a lot of first-time guests come in over the last month because of this. They didn’t know we existed.”

The Counter, which has 31 locations in the United States, has since added the Impossible Burger to all its restaurants.

“I wouldn’t necessarily put it against our bison or our beef burger,” Hess says candidly. “But for people that haven’t had meat in a long time? They love it.”

The key to the Impossible Burger is heme, which carries oxygen in blood. Impossible Foods says heme is “a basic building block of life on Earth, including plants, but it’s uniquely abundant in meat.” Heme is what “makes meat smell, sizzle, bleed, and taste gloriously meaty. Consider it the ‘magic ingredient’ that makes our burger a carnivore’s dream.”

Because no cattle are involved, Impossible Foods says its hamburger substitute “uses a fraction of the Earth’s natural resources. Compared to cows, the Impossible Burger uses 95 percent less land, 74 percent less water, and creates 87 percent less greenhouse gas emissions.”

You might, however, create some exhaust fumes driving to Meridian. So far, The Counter is the only place selling the Impossible Burger in the Gem State.

An Impossible Burger will set you back $15.

“Our base burgers are $9, usually,” Hess says. “So it’s actually more expensive than bison or mahi mahi. It’s the most expensive burger that we have.”

That hasn’t deterred curious customers. The Impossible Burger has been so popular, Hess says, that his team created a special vegan version of The Counter’s customizable, build-your-own-burger ordering sheet. Using a golf pencil and a clipboard, vegan diners design their perfect Impossible Burger.

“It’s been a great thing for them,” he says. “They can see all the sauces that don’t have dairy. Some people want to know if there’s honey in a sauce, because some vegans, that’s part of their criteria is not having honey.

“It’s actually been really interesting,” Hess admits. “It’s created a lot of renewed interest in our regular veggie burger, too. People come in and try both.”

Seeing customers’ delight when they dig into a juicy Impossible Burger never gets old.

“They come and try this thing, and they can’t believe it,” Hess says happily. “We have started saying it’s not Impossible, it’s just highly improbable — because obviously, we have it now.”

Online: thecounter.com, impossiblefoods.com.

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