Meet The Black Man Behind New York City’s Newest Black-Owned, Late-Night Vegan Burger Joint

The opportunities for Black entrepreneurs to launch their vegan businesses has never been better. 

That’s largely due to the fact that people of color are reducing their consumption of meat faster than other demographics, according to a poll conducted by Gallup in 2020. And Black celebs are also investing in businesses that align with their meatless lifestyles. For example, Beyoncé co-founded vegan meal delivery brand 22 Day Nutrition—that has since expanded to a meal-planning app—with vegan nutritionist Marco Borges, and Jay-Z has invested in vegan brands such as Partake Foods and Impossible Foods through his venture capital firm. 

With the vegan market on fire, Jerrell Obee saw an opportunity to merge his new-found interest in veganism with his love of an American classic — a good ol’ fashioned burger. This inspired JERRELL’s BETR BRGR, NYC’s newest late-night, Black-owned, vegan burger spot serving burgers, fries and shakes with a flare.

“During the pandemic, I had my son,” owner Jerrell Obee tells ESSENCE. “Upon his birth, I really got into veganism and sustainability. I did my research about it, and I thought about things I could do to make changes for his future as well. I don’t know how, but I thought of a vegan burger shop.”

His research led him to discover how eating a plant-based diet is the best thing humans can do for the environment. That newfound knowledge — coupled with the serial entrepreneur observing the popularity of restaurant chains such as Slutty Vegan that use fresh ingredients — inspired him to spend his pandemic planning to open a vegan restaurant of his own.

Since opening in August 2021, Jerrell’s has become a fan-favorite in NYC, with over 4.5 million views on TikTok, it’s safe to say that the cool internet kids love Jerrell’s too. 

Located in the SoHo neighborhood of Manhattan at the entrance to the Holland Tunnel, the Black-owned, late-night burger spot welcomes customers to chow down on plant-based burgers, fries, chili, shakes and oat milk-based soft serve. Dining is walk-up style, with sitting and standing tables available outdoors.

“In New York City there wasn’t a late night until 4am spot that is iconic,” says Obee. “In the way Pat’s King of Steaks and Geno’s is in Philadelphia, or Gray’s Papaya is in New York — but for meat eaters and vegans alike.”

Instead of lauding an all-or-nothing approach, Obee and BETR BRGR aim to inspire its customers to eat plant-based most of the time, or at the very least, incorporate more plants into their diets. The modest menu features three different burger varieties made with Impossible Meat patties—the LIL ‘BETR (Impossible patty, vegan cheese, lettuce, tomato, grilled onions, pickles, and Jerrell’s special sauce), the O.G. BETR (2 Impossible patties, vegan cheese, lettuce, tomato, grilled onions, pickles, and Jerrell’s special sauce), and the SUPR BETR (Impossible patty, lettuce, tomato, onions, pickles, Jerrell’s special sauce, plus vegan bacon and jalapeños). Each burger can be accompanied by crispy waffle fries, loaded chili fries, or a hearty chili bowl.

“Our business is late-night. We sell triple the amount of customers and orders after 11 o’clock at night. And we’ve been doing really well, thank God.”

In addition to savory bites, guests can also enjoy sweets such as Oat Shakes blended with Oatly oat milk, and vegan soft serve topped with sprinkles, waffles fries, cookie crumbles, or vegan bacon bits.

The future is looking bright for Jerrell’s BETR BRGR. According to the owner, the brand is already looking to expand to two to three more locations — into boroughs Brooklyn and Queens — by next summer.

Jerrell’s BETR BRGR is located at 116 6th Ave in Manhattan, New York. The hole-in-the-wall restaurant is open all day, from 11 a.m. until 1 a.m., and 4 a.m on weekends.

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