ECONOMY

Leonardo DiCaprio Joins Lewis Hamilton’s Vegan Burger Empire

The plant-based food brand Neat Food Co. backed by Lewis Hamilton is expanding to open its first brick-and-mortar spot in the U.S. before the end of the year. On Thursday, April 28, the company announced the start of a $30 million Series B fundraise to fuel growth.

Neat is also adding another high-profile name to its list of supporters: Environmentally minded actor Leonardo DiCaprio has joined the group as a strategic investor. “Disrupting our food system with sustainable alternatives is one of the key ways we can make a real difference in reducing global emissions,” DiCaprio said in a statement. “Neat Burger’s pioneering approach to alternative proteins is a great example of the type of solutions we need moving forward.”

Neat was launched in 2019 by the Formula 1 champion Hamilton and Tommaso Chiabra, an early investor in Beyond Meat. It currently has eight locations in London, but the plan is to have 12 locations in the U.S., a mix of storefronts and ghost kitchens, by the end of 2022. The flagship will be a brick-and-mortar spot set to open in New York City this year: The company is scouting spaces in SoHo, Bryant Park, and Midtown Manhattan. In total, Neat expects to be operating 42 locations worldwide, including in the Middle East and Italy, by the end of the year.

The company’s most recent valuation is $100 million, based in part on a $7 million round led by Rajeev Misra, chief executive officer of SoftBank Investment Advisers.

“Our focus this year is on entering the New York market and establishing ourselves within the local community before expanding via our hybrid model of online and offline restaurants to other regions such as Miami, Austin, and L.A. next year,” said co-founder and Chairman Chiabra by email. He said Neat is treating the United States as its primary market, targeting operations in 1,000 North American locations by 2030.

In addition to its restaurant expansion, Neat plans to launch consumer packaged-good products (CPG) across the country in the next 12 months, including its plant-based chicken patty and hot dogs.

Neat initially used Beyond Meat for such options as the double-patty smash burger smothered with plant-based cheese, mustard, and house sauces, which goes for $12 at the recently opened Neat pop-up in UrbanSpace in Midtown Manhattan. The company has switched to a proprietary blend. A recent taste test showed a burger that will not necessarily convert carnivores; it has the chewy texture of many a nondescript vegan patty, although the plant-based yellow cheese spilling over the sides is tantalizing, and so is a side of the fully loaded ‘nasty’ tater tots.

What is especially noteworthy is Neat’s chick’n burger ($12). Its faux poultry is surprisingly good, featuring a satisfying meaty bite dressed with vegan mayo within a well-griddled bun. It’s a good option for anyone still engaged in the fried chicken sandwich wars.

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