By Joseph Ditzler

The Bulletin

Matt de Gruyter staked his business future on the notion that Bend is ready for the next level in fast-food dining.

The restaurant, NLB, for Next Level Burger, that he and his wife, Cierra de Gruyter, created in the Century Center on Southwest Century Drive, officially opens at 11 a.m. Saturday, he said. Two soft openings are scheduled at 5-7 p.m. today and Friday.

“The catch: It’s a 100 percent plant-based burger joint,” de Gruyter said Wednesday. “The Next Level Burger is virtually indistinguishable from fast-food burgers. It’s 26 grams of clean protein.”

De Gruyter, a Denver native and most recently manager of a brokerage house in Laguna Niguel, California, said the new business is a result of his and his wife’s passions to create something good for people.

“The passion to have something that’s absolutely mine,” he said. “My wife’s passion is to provide awesome, nutritious food for everyone.”

The couple researched sites in Austin, Texas; Scottsdale, Arizona; and Newport Beach, California; before agreeing to locate in Portland. But Cierra de Gruyter grew up in Deschutes County and urged her partner to at least check the area out, Matt de Gruyter said.

“I’m a mountain biker and a climber and all those things are pretty close to home,” he said.

The 1,700-square-foot restaurant takes up the last space available at the Century Center, said Bend architect Rachel Stemach, who designed the restaurant. The de Gruyters originally planned on renovating a former Washington Federal bank branch at 560 SW Columbia St. But that building, at 2,700 square feet, presented a little too much room to turn easily into the restaurant her clients envisioned, she said.

“We were struggling to fill that existing space,” Stemach said. The de Gruyters never closed on the property that went instead to a dental practice. The Century Center location presented a “simpler, quicker way to get into the restaurant business with a small starting point.”

Next Level Burger traded a spot with lots of vehicular traffic for one with lots of foot traffic.

“I think it’s going to go really well,” Stemach said.

Matt de Gruyter said the menu his wife created is free of genetically modified ingredients and based on organic products sourced mostly from the West or Northwest. In addition to six varieties of burgers, the menu includes salads, sandwiches and sides. The namesake burger sells for $6.50.

“It’s all heart healthy. We’re real proud of our menu,” he said.

Stemach said the restaurant seats 50. She designed a space with “lots of light, lots of space, lots of volume,” she said. Although relatively small for a restaurant, she said, “it’s a welcoming and warm environment. We were trying to maintain as much openness as we could.”

— Reporter: 541-617-7815,