By Joseph Ditzler

The Bulletin

Just two years after its start in a renovated space at the Century Center on Bend’s west side, vegetarian Next Level Burger is sprouting a third location, its second in the Portland area.

Founded by Matt and Cierra de Gruyter, Next Level Burger is opening in July in a new venture by Whole Foods Market in Lake Oswego, one of 19 new stores around the country called 365 by Whole Foods Market. It aims to become a smaller, less-expensive version of Whole Foods and a sustainable exercise in running a grocery store, according to the company.

“We’re pretty excited,” Matt de Gruyter said Monday. “We didn’t apply initially; we didn’t even know about it. It was one of those things that was brought to our attention. It was late in the game, but Whole Foods decided Next Level Burger was what it was looking for.”

Whole Foods in April announced it would open the first 365 store in Silver Lake, a Los Angeles neighborhood, on May 25, the second in Lake Oswego on July 14 and a third later in the year in Bellevue, Washington. Sixteen more are planned next year in California, Georgia, Florida, Illinois, Indiana, Ohio and Texas, according to an email from company spokesman Peter McCormack. Next Level Burger will be joined by Canteen, a Portland cafe and juice bar, according to a Whole Foods news release.

Independent retailers like Next Level Burger “may appear in more than one store one day,” McCormack wrote Tuesday, “but at this moment, there are no plans for Next Level Burger to expand into additional 365 by Whole Foods Market stores.”

De Gruyter said Jeff Turnas, president of 365 by Whole Foods Market, whom de Gruyter met in New York City, warmed to Next Level Burger from the start. Next Level’s sustainability ethos and business model built on plant-based burgers, sides and drinks fit with the Whole Foods emphasis on organically grown foods, de Gruyter said.

“We had a good old-fashioned conversation around what they were looking to achieve with 365 and what we were looking to achieve with Next Level Burger,” de Gruyter said. “365’s goals are really ours.”

The husband-and-wife business partners opened the first Next Level Burger in Bend in July 2014. The second location, on SE Hawthorne Boulevard in Portland, opened in October. The company’s goal is a nationwide chain offering fast-casual vegan fare, Matt de Gruyter said.

“I wanted to see something that, as a concept, has legs,” he said, “a burger joint for the 21st century.”

The 365 by Whole Foods concept is built around providing a less-expensive array of Whole Foods’ signature brand of organic products.

De Gruyter said he’d like to lower the prices at Next Level Burger. The namesake burger costs $6.75, up 25 cents since the opening, but the cost of organic, vegan food is higher than the usual fast-food fare.

“It amazes me how many people continue to show up and support us,” de Gruyter said. “The classic construction worker next to the yoga teacher next to tons of young families with young kids.”

— Reporter: 541-617-7815,

jditzler@bendbulletin.com

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