Jason Faria’s The Plant Butcher turns heads at the Pacific National Exhibition with its plant-based foods such as Crispy Un’Chicken Burger.
People who walk by The Plant Butcher concession stand at the PNE often look a little confused.
Owner-operator Jason Faria said it’s usually because they don’t expect to see anyone serving plant-based food at a traditional midway.
The Plant Butcher’s bestseller is the $14 Crispy Un’Chicken Burger with a crunchy, breaded covering over soy-based protein. It’s served with sauces and pickled onions made in-house in a brioche bun.
“People don’t expect plant-based at the PNE,” Faria said. “We get a lot of people that walk by who are almost confused.”
Faria said that with about 25 per cent of people eating plant-based meals at least twice a week, having non-meat options other than french fries makes good business sense.
“Maybe they’re not coming to the PNE in the first place, not because they don’t enjoy the fair, but because they know there’s nothing they can eat here,” he said. “We saw the trends in front of us. We could see that people wanted options.”
The first appearance by The Plant Butcher at the fair is a sign of how businesses are responding to changing consumer demand.
Some of the foods available at the fair include a gourmet version of mac and cheese with lobster and garlic butter for $18, a vodka pink lemonade for $9 and cotton-candy-flavoured soft serve ice cream for $6. You can also watch chefs from Culinary Team B.C. doing cooking demonstrations of foods such as Asian-inspired sablefish.
Traditional favourites are still available. A Two Foot Tower of mini-donuts covered in cinnamon and sugar is $18, a Cowboy Chili Cheese Footlong hotdog, $15, and a Classic Corn Dog, $7.
The Plant Butcher is one of 40 independent family concession stands compared with about 75 at a non-COVID PNE.
Faria’s family has such a long connection to the fair that he’s been described as coming from “PNE midway royalty.” In 1957, his father started serving Footlong Hotdogs at the PNE; a Corn King followed in 1965.
Faria credits his wife, Kathleen King, as the source of their plant-based approach to food. While Faria said he still eats meat, his wife changed to a 100-per-cent plant-based diet a few years ago.
“I said I’d never eat anything vegan in my life. If you asked me five years ago whether I’d eat vegan cheese, I would have said, ‘Not a chance,’ ” he said. “Right now, it’s actually pretty good.”
He said they opened The Plant Butcher restaurant in Chilliwack in November 2020, and a food truck this year. He described their plant-based business as the outcome of finding a practical middle ground at home.
“I could see how I had to change my diet,” he said. “(My wife) wasn’t going to cook a big steak for me anymore.”
He reasoned that if he and his wife were figuring out how to move to a more plant-based diet, so were others.
“Veganism is not my thing, but moving to plant-based is something I’m trying to do,” he said.
The PNE at Hastings Park continues to Sept. 6 (closed on Monday, Aug. 30). Hours of operation are 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. Tickets are $15 for adults, $12 for kids and seniors, and free for anyone five-and-under. All tickets have to bought in advance at ticketleader.ca