October 1 signaled a new day for Mellow Mushroom. Since 1974, the Southeast pizza purveyor, with 200 locations, has expanded its menu to include versatile fare from oven-roasted wings to avocado hoagies to calzones, but still has managed to stray away from one dining staple: the burger.
In what began simply as another way to satisfy vegetarian palates, Mellow Mushroom brought its veggie burger—Herb—and a beef option—Carnie—to select customers. Annica Kreider, the brand’s vice president of brand development, says the strong response and desire to continue evolving led to a test product becoming a permanent one. “Consumers want more options,” Kreider says of the menu addition, which went into effect to start the month. “Their taste preferences change over time and Mellow Mushroom needs to respond to that challenge. Accordingly, Mellow has put in place procedures to develop and test different food options that will create interesting new culinary opportunities for our guests to visit us more often.”
The Carnie is made of 100 percent choice, all-natural, certified Black Angus Beef, humanely raised and minimally processed without additives or ammoniated procedures. It’s available with Swiss cheese, caramelized onions, romaine lettuce, tomato, pickles, and garlic aioli spread. The Herb consists of kale, quinoa, roasted mushrooms, brown rice, and other seasonings and vegetables. Cheddar cheese, romaine lettuce, tomato, sweet onions, and fresh avocado are available as toppings.
The decision to offer burgers alongside its signature pizza options needed some planning. Kreider says the process was pretty fluid given the kitchens’ past experience with limited-time offerings. Additionally, she says it’s an extension of the already in-place sandwich program. “Because we are a concept that has been around for some time, we have a variety of kitchen sizes represented in our system,” she says. “By testing the products in many markets and many age restaurants we were able to provide appropriate training for all restaurants, regardless of age, size, equipment package or volumes.”
Using top-level ingredients and offering another meat alternative was key as well. “The high-quality ingredients are paramount to us, we don’t value engineer any of our products, and we think that’s the most important key to our success,” Kreider says. “Our vegetarian guests have always been extremely important to us, going back to when we started in the ’70s. We take great pride in offering vegetarian fare that is filling and delicious, a step above the condiments on bread that many restaurants offer as vegetarian options.”
She adds that Mellow Mushroom will promote the new menu through front-of-the house training and across different information outlets. As far as the future goes, Kreider says the focus will be on remaining flexible.
“We want our guests to know they can rely on us to always deliver the delicious stone baked pizza they’ve come to know and love us for, but we also want to stay relevant for up and coming consumers and adapt to changing consumer tastes and demands,” she says. “With that in mind, I would say we want to be innovative, and there’s a lot of places we go with culinary innovation. Ultimately, our guests will let us know if they accept it from our brand.”