Sowing Seeds of Success

 

Sowing Seeds of Success

Steven Salm, B.B.A. ’07, is the founder and CEO of PLANTA, a collective of 100 percent plant-based restaurants across North America.

by Lisa Conley-Kendzior

Steven Salm

 

 

 

When you walk into a PLANTA restaurant, you’ll hear the sizzle of bacon, smell the grilling of burgers and see the careful assemblage of spicy tuna rolls. The catch? PLANTA doesn’t serve any meat.

Born and raised in eastern Long Island, Steven Salm, founder and CEO of PLANTA, discovered a passion for food and cooking at an early age.

“Growing up, our home was a gathering place for family and friends, and there was always a copious amount of homemade food,” he said. “So I was introduced to the idea of food being the center of all activity as a kid, and it’s something I’ve carried with me throughout my life.”

After graduating from GW’s School of Business in 2007, Salm ventured into the hospitality industry, eventually establishing a foothold in Toronto. In 2012, he founded his own hospitality group and opened his first restaurant the following year.  

The idea for PLANTA came three years—and three more restaurants—later when Salm, a committed carnivore until then, transitioned to a plant-based diet after watching “Cowspiracy,” a documentary about the ecological damage of animal agriculture and factory farming.

“I noticed that once I went plant based, I had more energy and just felt better overall,” he said. “It really opened my eyes to the idea of food as medicine, and I learned that nothing could taste as good as I feel when I eat a plant-based diet.”

Faced with the challenge of aligning his newfound lifestyle with the existing menus of his burgeoning restaurant empire, Salm converted 25 percent of his offerings to be plant based.

He focused on crafting menu items that appealed to all, defying preconceived notions about vegan cuisine through creative dishes like potato chorizo breakfast burritos and ahi watermelon hand rolls.

“PLANTA is not just about the food; it’s about creating an experience that surprises and delights,” Salm explained. “We want people to leave not just satisfied but inspired by the possibilities of plant-based dining.”

And those possibilities have grown immensely since Salm’s personal shift to plant-based eating; what once felt lonely has since transformed into a movement, with an array of plant-based alternatives that were unimaginable in 2016.

“It’s a totally different landscape now compared to eight years ago,” Salm said. “It used to be difficult to find alternative milks, but today you can walk into almost any grocery store and find everything from pistachio milk to hemp milk.”

Now that sourcing quality plant-based ingredients is a problem of the past, Salm is setting his sights on a new challenge: enticing meat-eaters to explore the world of plant-based options.

The restauranter recognizes that to effect real change in the larger issues of sustainability and climate impact, engagement with the broader audience—the 90% who consume animal products—is crucial.

“At the end of the day, the issues that we’re trying to solve for on a sustainability aspect, like the overall climate crisis, are not going to be solved by only focusing on the 10% of people who eat a vegetarian diet,” Salm said. “It’s about taking 100% of the market and saying, ‘We have an opportunity to use plants differently, and we just want you to come in and experience it.’

“If you’re open to the idea of trying it, then we feel like we can do a pretty good job of convincing you that it’s not some scary, ‘other’ type of eating,” he added.

Sustainability isn’t just a buzzword for Salm; it’s a philosophy that extends beyond the walls of PLANTA and begins with educating the next generation about the positive impact they can have on the food industry.

 

interior of restaurant
 

 

PLANTA Queen DC 

 

 

 

“I’m really confident in mankind, and I’m really confident in our youth. Younger generations are seeking options that align with their values, and we’re here to meet that demand,” he said. “The shift toward plant-based is not just a trend—it's a fundamental change in how people view their relationship with food.”

And as a father of three, Salm has witnessed that fundamental change firsthand.

“One day our 6-year-old noticed that our 4-year-old was sneezing and said, ‘I’m going to go tell mom and dad to make you a green juice to help you get you better,’” he recounted with a smile. “So they’re already starting to form conclusions that food can be medicinal, and it can solve problems.”

PLANTA now has more than a dozen locations across North America, including two specialized dining concepts: PLANTA Queen, focusing exclusively on Asian-inspired dishes, and PLANTA Cocina, specializing in pan-Latin cuisine.

As PLANTA continues to grow, maintaining core values is a priority for Salm. His goal is to make plant-based dining accessible to everyone and prove that eating out can be mutually beneficial for both the patron and the planet—an “unguilty pleasure.”

“The mission here is to create an environment where delicious food in beautiful spaces with great service can be the norm,” he said. “And seeing a menu that only has fruits and vegetables on it can be the norm.

“There’s this whole world out there that is better as a result of these decisions,” he added. “By taking these steps forward with creativity and making and designing amazing environments and curating incredible experiences, we know that this is the future.”  

 

 

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 PLANTA Queen Brownies

   22–25 min.

Brownies

INGREDIENTS

  • 330g granulated sugar
  • 250g all-purpose flour
  • 80g unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 5g baking powder
  • 4g salt
  • 220g water
  • 200g vegetable oil
  • 5g vanilla extract

INSTRUCTIONS

  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Grease a 9x13-inch baking pan and line it with parchment paper.
  2. Combine the sugar, flour, cocoa powder, baking powder and salt in a large mixing bowl. Add the water, oil and vanilla extract to the dry ingredients; mix until incorporated, making sure the batter is smooth.
  3. Spread the batter in the prepared baking pan. Bake until a toothpick inserted into the center of the brownies comes out clean, 22 to 25 minutes.

Chocolate Sauce

INGREDIENTS

  • 120g granulated sugar
  • 50g unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 250g oat milk
  • 120g rice syrup
  • 50g plant-based butter
  • 120g 70% dark chocolate

INSTRUCTIONS

  1. In a saucepan, whisk together the sugar and cocoa powder.
  2. Add the oat milk and rice syrup.
  3. Bring the mixture to a boil over medium-high heat. Let it come to a bubble.
  4. Whisk in the butter, remove from the heat and add chocolate. Mix well and serve hot.

 

  Photography: Courtesy of PLANTA