Like so many others, Jerrell Obee didn’t quite recognize the severity of the climate crisis until he became a parent.
“I had my first son two years ago, [and so I] started to research sustainability and things I can do to change the environment,” Obee tells Green Matters exclusively, from the outdoor tables in front of Jerrell’s Betr Brgr, his new vegan restaurant set to open Friday, Aug. 13.
His research led him to discover how eating a plant-based diet is the best thing humans can do for the environment. That newfound knowledge — coupled with the serial entrepreneur observing the popularity of restaurant chains that use fresh ingredients — inspired him to spend his pandemic planning to open a vegan restaurant of his own.
Jerrell’s Betr Brgr is Manhattan’s newest sustainable, late-night, vegan burger joint.
Jerrell’s Betr Brgr, located in the SoHo neighborhood of Manhattan, is a Black-owned, hole-in-the-wall, late-night, plant-based burger spot. The bright, yellow and green facade can be spotted from a block away, and patrons can enjoy their burgers at Jerrell’s outdoor counters and tables.
The modest menu consists of just three burgers (all made with Impossible Foods meat), waffle fries, chili, shakes, and oat milk-based soft serve. Each item I tried at Jerrell’s Betr Brgr was everything I could ever want from a burger joint — the burger was perfectly-balanced, and the fries were salty and crispy.
And even though I chowed down at around 6 p.m., I have a hunch that Jerrell’s Betr Brgrs would taste just as good at 3 a.m. — which is what time the spot will close on Saturday nights — because no drunk New Yorker on the way home from the bars can resist a burger from a colorful hole-in-the-wall.
Most of Jerrell’s consumer-facing packaging is compostable — and, unlike many other restaurants that tout their compostable packaging, Jerrell’s actually has compost bins in the kitchen. The staff will happily take your compostable wrappers, napkins, and utensils once you’re done eating (and trust me, you’ll finish every bite), and send it all to their industrial composting partners.
You don’t have to be vegan to enjoy Jerrell's Betr Brgr.
While Jerrell's Betr Brgr is 100 percent plant-based, Obee himself is actually not quite there yet. He’s “currently making that transition” to veganism, and still eating meat two times a week. “I'm pacing myself,” he says. But he is so confident that “plant-based is the future” that he committed to opening a vegan restaurant while still making his personal transition to the lifestyle.
And he hopes that the fact that he isn’t yet fully vegan will convince non-vegans to grab a Betr Brgr. “We love burgers — like, real ones. BUT we also love this planet and know that we won’t be eating burgers for much longer if things keep going the way they’re going,” reads a statement from Jerrell’s Betr Brgr. “Small actions when multiplied CAN facilitate change.”
Obee adds that despite veganism’s “all-or-nothing” stigma, “Everybody starts somewhere. And even if I can make a great product to substitute someone eating a real burger just one time, that means a lot to me. So it's the small steps and the small changes that change people's habits and the way they move forward.”
Not only does Obee believe eating more plant-based food is a necessity for our planet’s health, but the entrepreneur has also observed a “fresh ingredient wave” in the casual food space. He has watched restaurants like Chipotle, Panera Bread, and Shake Shack overtake fast food chains like McDonald’s and Wendy’s, in some ways — and he has hope that more vegan restaurant chains will do the same.
“I really believe the next five to 10 years is going to be a plant-based wave,” Obee says. “So I just want to be one of the first ones to pioneer a burger joint and hopefully in the future, you never know, it grows into a franchise.”
Jerrell's Betr Brgr is located at 117 6th Avenue in Manhattan on the corner of Watts Street, and open on Mondays through Fridays from 11 a.m. to 1 a.m., Saturdays from 11 a.m. to 3 a.m., and Sundays from 11 a.m. to midnight. It is walk-up and outdoor dining only.