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Ran NussbacherRan Nussbacher is the Co-founder and CEO of Shouk, a plant-based restaurant chain with a mission to fight climate change. He has almost 20 years in diverse sales industries, which helped drive his passion for conservation. Ran holds Master’s degrees in Information Systems and Business Administration from Boston University.

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Here’s a Glimpse of What You’ll Hear:

  • Ran Nussbacher talks about his global mission to fight climate change
  • What customers see when they go to Shouk
  • Why the famed Shouk Burger is so different from veggie burgers
  • How did Shouk survive the pandemic?
  • Ran’s initiatives to help drive the mission of sustainability

In this episode…

In this episode of the SpotOn Series, Chad Franzen speaks with Shouk Co-founder and CEO Ran Nussbacher about its innovative, Middle East market-style restaurant and storefront and its 100% plant-based menu. Ran created Shouk in 2014, before the plant-based culinary industry became the trend it is today. He continues to aid the fight against climate change through unique sustainability-minded initiatives like running exclusively on wind-power, delivering environmentally-conscious menu items and supplies, and tree planting programs to close the consumption loop.

Resources mentioned in this episode:

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Episode Transcript

Intro  0:04  

Welcome to the Top Business Leaders show. Powered by Rise25 Media. We featured top founders, executives and business leaders from all over the world

Chad Franzen  0:20  

Chad Franzen here co host for the show where we feature top restaurant tours, investors and business leaders. This is part of our SpotOn Series. SpotOn has the best in class payment platform for retail and they have a flagship solution called spot on restaurant, where they combine marketing software and payments all in one. They’ve served everyone from larger chains like Dairy Queen and Subway to small mom and pop restaurants. To learn more, go to spot This episode is brought to you by Rise25. We help b2b businesses to get ROI clients referrals and strategic partnerships through done for you podcasts. If you have a b2b business and want to build great relationships with clients referral partners and thought leaders in your space. There’s no better way to do it than through podcasts and content marketing. To learn more go to or email us at Ran Nussbacher is founder and CEO CEO at Shouk a plant based fast casual chain and food company in Washington DC. Ran as a former clean tech executive out to save the world through our lunch hour. With three locations in the Washington DC area. Shouk is obsessed with real food, bold flavors and the power of tahini. Ran, thanks so much for joining me today. How are you?

Ran Nussbacher  1:28  

Happy to be here. Thank you.

Chad Franzen  1:30  

So tell me a little bit more about Shouk. What can customers expect when they go there?

Ran Nussbacher  1:35  

We’re a little bit of a different, different beast so to speak. We are as you mentioned, 100%, plant based and which is kind of new and fun to begin with. But even in the in the category of plant based that schedule was we were very different than pretty much anybody else. See there, in the sense that we are obsessed with using real fruit and reading videos. So you’re not going to find beyond Earth or impossible burgers, our menu everything is is made using actual products that you can see and recognize. And we’re all about celebrating the actual initiatives.

Chad Franzen  2:14  

As far as I can tell your professional background has primarily been in sales and business development. How did Shouk come about?

Ran Nussbacher 2:21  

So interesting story. I have spent a bunch of years in the tech world and sales sales roles. My most recent experience was in the clean tech world where we were working with utility companies to get individuals in their homes to change how we use energy to make small changes, like start turning off the lights when they leave the room or switch to cold water. When you launder changes that you know for the individual person or household are not that impactful, certainly not something you may notice on your bill. But aggregated across millions of people all over the US we are able to to reduce reduce energy waste and literally remove power plants off the grid, which is a powerful experience in the sense that it showed me that you can you can find a way to impact what I call micro behaviors, small individual behaviors that when aggregated with scaled up can lead to meaningful societal change. And for me personally, climate change is a hot topic. It’s what I care deeply about. And the connection between our food system and climate change is very, very strong, I think strongest there is so so having having seen the Spirit’s edge I set out to create Shouk as a way to change behaviors, if you will around our lunch, right. And the idea is that if we can get you to once a week, couple times a week, choose a plant based lunch, you know, a veggie burger instead of a real burger or a cauliflower, pea diets that are beats them. And we can do that a million times over and all of a sudden we have major impacts on climate change metrics, we have major impact on human health. And we’re saving a bunch of animals along the way.

Chad Franzen  4:09  

How did you come up with the recipes and ideas for your dishes?

Ran Nussbacher 4:13  

So Shouk means markets Shouk is the Hebrew word for markets. And it kind of tells you a little bit about our origins are called narrowly. And from just a brand energy perspective, we are rooted in the most exciting opening of markets that are found all over the Middle East Israel. It’s an area of the world that loves vegetables, love beans, you know, stuff that you carry in society are saying what we know and I say we because I’m from there. You know, we know how to make them sick. I don’t make them flavorful. You know, very different than the American traditional approach to vegetables, which is, you know, overcooked broccoli inside of my steak. And so so Shouk philosophy harkens back to that part of the world was that to those markets, where we draw inspiration, we’re kind of our own play on fusion, some of the traditional flavors and combinations, but it’s all it’s all homegrown. It’s we take stuff that we know from our childhood, and we, we mix it with new stuff. And we come up with exciting combinations. We like,

Chad Franzen  5:21  

can you kind of set the scene for those markets, I saw that you got the food is inspired from, you know, some of the most exciting street markets? Can you kind of kind of describe what those markets are? Like, for some maybe for an American? Who hasn’t been there?

Ran Nussbacher  5:33  

Yeah, yeah. So so the first thing they hit you with, actually are salads. And as you approach the market, you’ll hear the market, you know, the sellers in their souls are singing and yelling and advertising their wares and are joking with with customers. Very informal, fun environment. So as you get close, the next thing that will hit you are colors, this is very, very colorful, and color is indicative to me of real food, real food looks fantastic. And it’s colorful in all different shapes and sizes. And then the next thing here is the set of the fresh produce. So it’s it’s really just mounds of produce anywhere and spices. And it’s all sensory, almost like a sensory overload. Right? As you walk through these markets, and to me, obviously, freshness is a is a big thing that you experience there. But also just the integrity of food, you see where your food is coming from, right? That’s a black box. No hidden, it’s not the supermarket, it’s it puts you in direct contact with the source of your food and the source of rich. And it’s that energy that we created Shouk.

Chad Franzen  6:45  

The Shouk burger has been featured on the Food Network. Can you tell me about that?

Ran Nussbacher  6:49  

Yeah, so the Shouk burger is kind of our answer to the whole veggie burger craze. And more specifically, I’d say the Shouk burger is the anti Impossible Burger. It’s the anti beyond meats. Not in the sense that those are those are not wonderful products should exist. But our particular approach is, you know, it’s about it’s about the real. Alright, so the Shouk burger, unlike unlike a Impossible Burger is made from vegetables, and grains and beans only. And we even we even make sure not to grind it all into a bush, because we want you to see its components as you’re eating fruit. So it’s made 100% of real foods, there are about 15 Different ingredients in it. And the flavor profiles, the seasoning and harking back to the Middle East in Israel to those markets very, very kind of Eastern flavor profile to it. And that’s, you know, we came up with it, because we felt there wasn’t, there wasn’t a good answer for people who want it if it says find veggie river experience. But we’re looking for something that was not as processed.

Chad Franzen  8:03  

How did you kind of know what to put in? Like, all these separate ingredients? How does you know what to put in that would end up making a good burger.

Ran Nussbacher  8:13  

I know it’s part art and part science like everything, months and months of r&d, visiting all the most inflamed restaurants and places that serve veggie burgers around the country and kind of see what we liked and disliked about them. A lot of what traditional veggie burgers suffer from, you know, are they’re dried and fall apart, you know, they’re not as flavorful. And so we could have sought ingredients to help remedy a lot of that, for example, our burgers does not fall apart. And one of the secrets to it is flaxseed, we use almost like a glue or binder, which also has the added benefit of being fantastically healthy and good food.

Chad Franzen  8:55  

So not only is your food plant based, but you guys make great efforts towards sustainability. Can you tell me about some of those?

Ran Nussbacher  9:02  

Yeah, well, that’s what that is huge for us. You know, if you’re going to create a business with the mission of helping to fight climate change, you know, you can’t just focus on the food we have to try and make sure that every aspect of our business is as sustainable as possible. And we constantly put new goals in front of ourselves. What we’re doing today is the biggest sources of waste. Of course, human business like ours is packaging to go and deliver businesses strong and invest cash flow. And so we have to use a lot of single use packages. So how do we make those not as harmful a couple of ways you know, we we invest as much as possible in plastic alternatives, and specifically in paper and cardboard wherever we possibly can. And, you know, the latest example of that is that we have switched from plastic like biodegradable cutlery to actually that made out of wood, which we think is you Have the old all the options is the most sustainable out there. So, you know cost us more. But we feel that’s the right answer. So wouldn’t cover is going to one way in which we live our values and also engage our customers at the same. Our stores run in wind power, we have a partnership with a company called Arcadia power. And through them were able to provide wind power for all of our stores. So 100% of electricity is from wind, that’s another way in which we are sustainable that operation. The third way is that we actually invite our customers to assist us. So I’ve mentioned before that we invest in biodegradable, and paper products, instead of plastic wherever we possibly can. It’s not enough, in our opinion, to just use something made out of wood, we have to close the loop, how do we close the loop, we plant the tree. So when you when you come online, on our app or website to order, we’ll invite you to donate $1 $1 to order. And we’ll take that dollar and plant a tree. In fact, this earlier today, I kind of tallied up all the trees we planted in the last few months. And it was about 1200 trees that we planted, or our customers rather plantings as part of

Chad Franzen  11:13  

What were the what were the early days at Shouk like like it when you when you had your first brick and mortar location.

Ran Nussbacher  11:20  

Interesting. I mean, at that time, this goes back like five years ago, 2016 That was before plant based kind of exploded. And seeing the same way to this now it was still a bit weird. And here we are, you know, starting a not only is it you know, a kind of ethnically slightly exotic flavor profile, best casual, but also happens to be 100% plant based as you might imagine, you know, it took a bit of a learning curve on part of our customers. People were initially raising an eyebrow, weren’t sure what that was all about. But we are committed to just leading with a flavor experience and putting food in their mouths and that we was all it took. So you know, we started seeing people, you know, after allowing themselves to kind of go nuts at twice for the first time become regulars?

Chad Franzen  12:13  

Is there something that you did or do to kind of convince people who maybe are used to having a, you know, a beef burger to join it to give your burger a try or to give your food to try. It’s

Ran Nussbacher  12:25  

actually the opposite of that it’s not about doing something, but it’s about none. There are certain things that we deliberately don’t do that that really are the driving force behind that. So if you think about it, increasingly, people are are making the connection between what they put in their bodies and their health between our food system and the environment. And they care. And many people do want to incorporate more vegetables into their diets thing is they don’t know how to do it, or their previous experience with vegetarian food has been boring or unsatisfying. And I don’t blame them. So there’s a lot of you know, there’s still to some degree, I think, some some barriers, some, some some negative connotations with somebody walking into a plant based restaurant. So the trick is to to remove those there. How do you do that? First and foremost, you create a brand like Shouk, that does not espouse veganism or vegetarianism. And you’re not going to see that, in your in store experience or as you engage with the brand, we’re not about pushing that on you. We’re not going to talk that much about about that fact that we’re not going electric. So you know, you just walk into a restaurant because it’s delicious. And because the flavor profile is compelling. And it doesn’t, it doesn’t say anything about you, or your or your diet decisions by having walked into. The second part is the food I mentioned earlier that we are committed to using real food, real ingredients, you know, not processed stuff. And I think that’s actually a rare key component to our success. Because I think in my experience, people who do eat meat, and animal products, otherwise want to incorporate more vegetables into their diets, they’re really looking for something new and incremental additive, not necessarily, you know, a imitation of something that you have. So by offering many goods differentiated and it’s more natural, we’ve actually seen great success with us.

Chad Franzen  14:26  

So you opened up kind of a first time restaurant, a new concept, maybe one that was you know, definitely unusual or, or different than anything else you’d find. What How did you know that it was time to expand to a new location and what kind of got you to that point?

Ran Nussbacher  14:44  

Short answer has always been the plan. We didn’t start this. To do just one of these and our mission is to is to change how we eat and to fight climate change to make good are our mission we have to we have to have sides right we have to be able to touch to touch a lot of things. bullet speed a lot of people. So scale has always been part of the plan. And we’d be with them we kind of move as quickly as we could. Whether we know a decision point was always obvious.

Chad Franzen  15:13  

What kind of learning curve was there in terms of breaking into the restaurant industry? I’m sure you were very successful in your previous endeavors. But the restaurant industry, you know, from everybody I’ve talked, I’ve everybody I’ve talked to, can be a different beast, was there kind of a learning curve? Or maybe mistake that might have been made? That was a tremendous learning experience? What can you tell me about that?

Ran Nussbacher  15:35  

Almost. It is, the learning curve continues. I mean, it’s a very unique beast, I often like in the restaurant world, too. If you’ve taken some of the more challenging elements of various industries and put them together, you get the restaurant world where you have like, essentially a small factory, using highly perishable ingredients, making products on demand selling direct to the customer. The opportunities for challenging that value chain are profound. There isn’t there isn’t one area, when it’s everything from from labor management, to to the supply chain management in all areas in which you know, in this area of COVID, are heightened, and it will become become more intense that we’re dealing with. So it’s really along the value chain. There’s plenty of opportunities to make mistakes and plan everything ways to get better and smarter. Conflict Resolution.

Chad Franzen  16:35  

How have you just mentioned COVID? How has COVID affected maybe your operations or the way you guys do business?

Ran Nussbacher  16:42  

Sure, you say? No, we interesting story. For us, we we’ve always been very given my background, I’ve always been very tech forward as a company, even at a very young age, which thankfully served as well, when COVID came around. The specific story I’ll tell you is that of food drops, which is the program that we came up with, literally within days of the of the market here in the DC area closed back in March of 2020. And, you know, having having downtown stores at a time only, we saw a customer base evaporate overnight, literally, all these offices that we used to serve for lunch were gone or empty. And we said what do we do now? How do we keep our staff? How do we keep our company? And we said, You know what? Well if our if our customers can’t can’t come to us anymore. Let’s finally go to them. And the majority of them, you know who work in downtown DC live in suburbs, 2030 minutes away. We said, You know what, we have this wonderful technology, this app that we invested in? What if he created these virtual locations and invite people to pick up a Shouk dinner, literally get a takeout, but instead of picking it up from our downtown location, they’ll just have to, you know, drive five minutes ago neighborhood pool, or church or synagogue. And so we we, we started doing this, we reached out to the community who said, Hey, 530, Tuesday, meet us at the pool, go on this link or do your dinner, we’ll be there with it. And it exploded. And so the use of technology, a little bit of creativity and some grit, all of a sudden, we were we were serving neighborhoods, you know, we have four neighborhoods a day, seven days a week, and manage not only to replace the business loss, but actually add to it. So that’s a big part of our COVID success story. And an interesting byproduct of that was that through working in these new communities, we were able to test markets for a future brick and mortar expansion, which

Chad Franzen  18:49  

Wow, that’s that’s a great story. Well, what are some of your goals moving forward?

Ran Nussbacher  18:55  

We’re growing. You mentioned we have three locations. Today, by the end of this year, we’ll be at six locations into the DC area. So we’re accelerating growth and and we plan on continuing to accelerate that going forward, adding more and more units every year, and I an expansion to the IBC market. As soon as the other you have the area that we’re investing in, which is pretty new to us is we’ve we’ve recently launched a a consumer packaged goods, which is the same Shouk program we’ve talked about, but the kind of size and format for the retail markets. We launched that last September. Initially as a direct to consumer offering people can go online and order it. Now we started placing it on shelves in grocery stores around our region as well. So it’s a new area for us. That’s

Chad Franzen  19:52  

okay, great. How can people find out more about that and just about Shouk in general.

Ran Nussbacher  19:58  

Everything is on the web at The

Chad Franzen  20:04  

Okay, sounds good. I’ll have to check that out. Thank you so much, Ran. It’s been great to talk to you best wishes moving forward.

Ran Nussbacher  20:10  

Thanks for having me. So long, everybody.

Outro 20:12  

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