Bend’s Plant-Based Burger Joint Hits Hawthorne

Next Level Burger brings organic and vegan bacon cheeseburgers to Southeast Portland.

By Tuck Woodstock April 23, 2015

Courtesy Next Level Burger

Step into Next Level Burger in Bend, and you’ll find families gleefully devouring chili cheese Frankfurters, chocolate peanut butter milkshakes, and meaty “All-American” burgers topped with cheddar cheese, mayo, and four strips of smoky bacon. One thing not on the menu at this new generation of burger stand? Animal products. But that hasn’t stopped many a hungry carnivore from chowing through an entire combo meal without realizing it was meatless, according to NLB founder Matt de Gruyter.

Now, de Gruyter’s creative plant-based comfort food is coming to Portland. An NLB outpost will take the place of a Pita Pit on the corner of Southeast 41st Avenue and Hawthorne this summer, with a second Portland location slated for the Southwest suburbs sometime next year. Like the flagship location, the menu will include a handful of burgers made with black beans, rice, tempeh, tofu, wheat, quinoa… essentially, everything but ham. 

A few years ago, de Gruyter was working as a private equity investor and eating 6­–7 pounds of red meat per week. But after tragically losing three family members to cancer and heart disease in the span of a few months, de Gruyter picked up his wife’s copies of Alicia Silverstone’s The Kind Diet and T. Colin Campbell’s The China Study, and decided that a plant-based diet was the best choice he could make for both personal and environmental health.  Together, de Gruyter and his wife, Cierra, hatched a plan to reinvent fast food with an organic vegan burger joint.  

Launched in July 2014, the original Bend location has already received praise from visitors from around the globe, including vegan activist Gene Baur. Matt reports an incredible swell of support from Portlanders, many of whom have driven the three hours southeast solely to feast on NLB’s plant-based grub. (Indeed, the restaurant’s Portland debut is partially driven by a desire to take the pressure off those hard-core commuters.) 

The Breakfast Bowl

In addition to its signature patties, the shop also sells sandwiches (think BLTA and grilled cheese), hot dogs, kale salads, and an array of gluten-free sides. Diners quench their thirst with rich soymilk shakes, cold-press juice blends, fair trade craft soda, and Humm kombucha on tap. There’s even a breakfast menu filled with tofu scrambles and steel cut oatmeal—Matt claims that the Hollandaise-smothered breakfast bowl is the “best thing my wife ever came up with, except for my kids.”

The menu mixes house-made specialties invented by Cierra and tried-and-true vegan mainstays, like Daiya and Chao Cheese. Items are clearly marked as gluten-free, soy-free, organic, non-GMO, and low fat. In short, this is a health junkie’s dream diner.

“What we do is a brand new take on your classic American burger stand,” Matt says. “Even in Portland, it’s hard to find a place that’s vegan and organic. We’d like to think we’re doing plant-based fast food in a very different way than anyone else.”

Burger connoisseurs and vegetarian foodies will have to wait until mid­ to late July to take their fast food dining to the, ahem, next level. Can’t wait that long? It’s only 170 miles to Bend!

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