Tomas Sohlberg – Boon Burger
By Joelle Kidd
Boon Burger is giving Winnipeg a vegucation with upgraded versions of traditional burger hut favourites.
It’s 12:30 on a Friday afternoon, and Boon Burger on Bannatyne is packed to capacity. The sunny space, sporting industrial touches of brick and steel alongside playful chalkboard drawings, is not a typical burger joint – there are things missing from the kitchen that fast food purveyors nary go without. A deep fryer for example. Oh, and ground beef.
In fact, no meat, dairy, or eggs find their way onto the premises. Yet, this all-vegan burger cafe is by no means exclusionary. The flood of patrons packing out booths during the weekday lunch rush shows that Boon burgers, fries, shakes, and dogs appeal to the masses. Prepared from scratch, with killer consistency, the menu is accessible with straight up healthy, environmentally sustainable, cruelty-free fare.
A vegan burger shack had never been attempted in Canada, but co-owners and spouses Tomas Sohlberg and Anneen DuPlessis exhibit the kind of freewheeling spirit necessary for such a venture. These two world travellers met in Key West, Florida at a yoga class – fast forward five weeks and they were getting married in Las Vegas. Now, almost nineteen years later, this spirit and tenacity shows through in their business practices as well. Burgers made of beans may not seem like a hot commodity, but five years into their venture, sales are booming.
Sohlberg made his mark on the dining scene in 1999 as one of the founding partners of Stella’s Bakery. So how (and why) does a baker boy who relied on on butter, eggs, and milk everyday to turn out some of the city’s best baking go on to lead a healthy, happy life without any of these staples? When asked, the conversation becomes a tad more sober, with food choices revealing, as they always do, an emotional connection. For Sohlberg, vegan cooking is about limiting the harm of food production on the environment, and looking towards sustainability.
Boon burgers are part science, part art.
Eating green has undeniable eco impact. A veggie-centric diet requires 7 times less land than a meat-focused one, and less production of meat translates into less water use, methane, and animal waste, as well as less energy expended on refrigeration during transportation. The biggest market for meat consumption is the behemoth fast food industry; one single Canadian beef supplier for a fast food chain pumps out 70 million pounds of hamburger patties per year. With the world’s population steadily climbing, environmentally conscious consumers are pushing for greater transparency in the provenance of their food. For Sohlberg and DuPlessis, these factors drove the transition into total plant dependance in their own diets, and ultimately to their meatless burger venture. Despite the duo’s passion, it is clear that they prefer the kitchen to the soapbox, never pressuring their customers to follow suit. “People have to come to it on their own,” Sohlberg muses.
After all, eating vegetables can be a hard sell, as any parent would attest. But Boon is making it easy. The restaurant’s name is Afrikaans for ‘bean’, a nod to DuPlessis’ origins. On one hand an essential component of their burgers, it also means bounty, a blessing. Eating at Boon Burger is not about deprivation – it’s about indulgence in the earth’s produce. Four varieties of hearty, protein-packed patties in dozens of topping variations, crispy, oven-baked French fries crusted in sesame seeds and dripping with salty gravy, and pizzas, newly added to the menu, smothered in ooey-gooey vegan ‘cheese’ are pleasures anyone can enjoy. DuPlessis has led the way in the kitchen; Sohlberg explains proudly, “Anneen has a real artistic sense for food–she’s like a painter, but with spices and ingredients.” He remembers peering over the shoulder of his cookbook-flouting wife during recipe development, madly jotting down measurements so their patties could be consistently replicated.
Boon burgers are part science, part art, with many components that have to be balanced. “If the oats are too dry, for instance, you end up with a different product,” says Sohlberg. The technique, to him instinctive, involves knowing how the mixture is supposed to look and feel. “It’s almost a meditative process,” he says, laughing sheepishly. “it’s like you have to become one with the mixture.”
While reaching a higher state of being with his patty mixture, Sohlberg is earning plenty of good karma. He has hit home with the underserved vegan market and with epicureans of all stripes, and his dream of a greener world is being spread on every bun. Part of Boon’s role in making bean believers is showing off the simple substitutions that can make us think differently about our food – how easily a delicious gravy can be made from vegetable stock, or soft serve from coconut milk. Facts and figures aside, if there’s anything that can unite and change the world, it’s a really tasty burger.
Click below to view recipes from Boon Burger