Brandon Byxbe, 33, cooked his way all over Chicago before opening The Amazing Kale Burger. At 741 Howard St. in Evanston, the restaurant combines a hipster hangout with a Barnum and Bailey Circus, and serves variations on only one dish: a veggie burger. The raw food chef dishes on his emerging venture, the vegan trend, and his problem with bathrooms.
Windy City Times: When did you fall in love with kale?
Brandon Byxbe: I was working at farmers' markets, and this farmer next to me was just giving me all his leftover kale. Finally, I was like, "I can't even eat all of this." I didn't want to waste it, so I ended up typing "kale burger" into Google. This really terrible recipe came up. I was like OK, well, I can make a better kale burger.
WCT: How much kale goes into the one patty?
WCT: How much is in a ton?
BB: About three kale leaves per patty. It is the heaviest ingredient by weight.
WCT: What makes the burger so wonderful?
BB: It has nine different veggies. There are no stupid fillers. It is straight up vegetables. That is super rare even for vegan food. I lot of it is just made out of crap. That is not how I want to eat.
WCT: Can you spill the secret ingredients?
BB: It's got onion, garlic, jalapeno, red pepper, zucchini, cremini mushrooms, tomatoes, potatoes, black bean, gluten-free oats, garbanzo bean flour and salt.
WCT: Are you ever worried that "clean foods" will go out of style? What would you do if that happened?
BB: No. It's just going to keep getting better and better. People are starting to care about what goes into their bodies. You know everyone is getting sick. Everyone has huge allergies now. They were not there before we started f**king with the food so bad. We really do need to get back to just veggies, and it is coming.
WCT: What inspires the carnival vibe of the restaurant? A lot of the tables and decorations look like antiques.
BB: I opened this on like a penny budget. You know what I am sayin'? Everything was donated. I did a Kickstarter. I mean all this stuff I found in the trash. Straight up, I like garbage picked all my dÃ©cor. I didn't have money.
WCT: Serious question: Is your favorite food kale?
BB: I am a donut junkie. Donuts and cinnamon rolls are like my favorite meals. And cake. They call me the cake pusher here because I am always like, "Do you guys want cake? I got cake! Cake, cake, cake!"
WCT: You are talking about vegan cake, right?
BB: Oh yes, definitely.
WCT: Your staff is all LGBT. Is that an important issue for you?
BB: It is very important to me, actually. I want this to be a very inviting and comforting space for everyone. I don't know what the hell is wrong with people these days. I will not be a part of the problem, that's for sure.
WCT: I'm assuming that's why you have a gender-neutral bathroom?
BB: Everyone here is queer. I am transgender. People are super uptight about bathrooms. I wanted the [gender-neutral] sign to be big. It's just a bathroom. You are going pee, straight-up. What is the problem here? I have been chased out of bathrooms personally, and it is a very bad experience. It is very traumatic and horrible. That will never happen here.
WCT: Let's say 10 years from now, are you head chef of a five-star raw food restaurant?
BB: Hell, no. I don't want to be a millionaire. I want to pay my rent and have a good time. I am not even in Whole Foods now, and it is not even on my to-do list. People get burned when they grow too big too fast, and I don't want to do that.
WCT: Why does expanding to Whole Foods have to be the definition of success?
BB: Exactlyit doesn't. I just want to be happy.