Bursting into LA’s plant-based fast0food scene earlier this year is Mr. Charlie’s, a concept with a design that without question evokes another not-to-be-named restaurant chain.
Co-founder and brand director Taylor McKinnon said he originally planned to open a chicken concept in the space, but he couldn’t stand the thought of killing so many chickens. So he and partners chef Charlie Kim, along with creative director Aaron Haxton and a business development partner identified only as “Mr. X,” pivoted to create an “old school, familiar hamburger shop that doesn’t kill any animals.”
With branding that mixes “sarcastic disruption” with “unconditional love,” Mr. Charlie’s offers plant-based Frowny Meals with various combos packed neatly into a red-and-yellow box marked with the signature frown and the motto “turn that frown upside down.”
When asked whether the founders had heard from McDonald’s, McKinnon said, “Who? I have no idea who you’re talking about.”
Meals include the “not a hamburger” (made with Impossible Burger), nuggets, fries and a drink for $15, or various smaller options, like the Double Not for $8 or BigMr. double burger with special sauce for $8.50.
The debut unit — which has been reviewed by Lizzo on TikTok — has no indoor dining. For staffing, Mr. Charlie’s partnered with the Dream Center, an organization that helps those transitioning from homelessness, incarceration and addiction. (Each full-time manager is given a credit card, in addition to compensation, and the company pays $300 a month to each for incidentals, such as gas, to help them build credit.)
McKinnon said he was helped by the program earlier in his life and he swore he would give back when he was able. He said the plan is to open more locations — though McKinnon is not ready to reveal where — to create more jobs. There are currently no plans to franchise.
“We want to create as many jobs as possible and to keep showing the standard of what the restaurant industry now needs to look like, which is doing better, being cleaner and then also creating opportunities for the community around you,” he said. “It’s really not about a hamburger.”