A decade ago, a 250-seat plant-based pub next to Fenway Park, land of hot dogs and burgers, might’ve seemed downright unimaginable. But there’s a global rise in plant-based eating, both for healthy and environmental sustainability reasons: According to market research from the Good Food Institute, plant-food sales increased by $430 million from 2019 to 2020, and they continue to grow.
Groton’s Mary Dumont, 48, is ready. In a couple of weeks, she’ll open PlantPub in the old Boston BeerWorks space on Brookline Ave. It’s the larger sibling to Kendall Square’s 24-seat version, where the menu is classic bar food without the animal products.
Dumont grew up in Hampton Falls, N.H., in a family of hospitality professionals. Her siblings ran the Purple Urchin at Hampton Beach; her brother was the opening culinary director at Wentworth by the Sea in New Castle. In 2006, Dumont was named a best new chef by Food & Wine magazine for her work at Strawbery Banke’s Dunaway Restaurant. She went on to become the longtime executive chef at Harvard Square’s Harvest before opening the short-lived and veggie-focused Cultivar at the Ames Hotel, which had its own hydroponic garden.
“The day I closed Cultivar, my sister, who’d been diagnosed with stage 4 cancer, was having major surgery. If she was brave enough to go through that, I was brave enough to close the door on my dream. I locked the door and headed to the hospital and spent the next several months caring for her and helping her at her restaurant at the beach. She’s now thankfully cancer-free. Everything in my life was giving me signs to change everything. And changing everything has turned out to have been the right thing to do,” Dumont says.
At PlantPub, she’ll serve garlic fingers, veggie and Impossible burgers, and nachos that look and taste just like their animal-style counterparts.
Talk about PlantPub. There’s a Kendall location. What’s next?
I always say Kendall was our COVID-sized location, our puppy. It was perfect for us. It’s been successful beyond what we thought and what we wanted. It’s been great and received so well. We’d been looking for a bigger location in the first place, and then this location came up. It seemed extraordinarily big. It all just seemed to fall in place. We’re imminently opening like any moment.
Here’s the question: I know how hard it is to find space in Boston and how high rents are in Boston. How did you manage to swing it? What’s your secret?
Well, it’s certainly all of those things. We were looking at the space, and simultaneously the [plant-based hospitality company] Matthew Kenney Cuisine was also looking at the space. That’s how the partnership happened. We were both looking at it together, and we have a common investor. I think just given all of the things that are going on in the world, it seemed to make sense, partnering with a company that has the existing capabilities to scale concepts in general. It just all made sense. Those things were in our favor. I think that’s how it happened so fast.
What is PlantPub?
It’s the plant-based version of the pub for everybody. Our whole goal, when we were dreaming this up and wanting to launch it, was wanting to do something that was plant-based but have it be kind of like … I hate to say it, but pub food is the gateway drug into plant-based food. It’s what everyone recognizes. It disarms everybody and makes them feel comfortable: burgers and fries, and pizza and beer, and all of those things, in a convivial, social environment. It brings people who would otherwise maybe not eat plant-based into the plant-based world. Everything is recognizable: nachos, all of that stuff.
Let’s do plant-based Mad Libs. Run me through a few examples of the plant-based version of common foods.
The nachos are made with a plant-based queso, made with all vegetables. My recipe — the texture, the flavor, the appearance, everything — looks like melted cheese. It’s with all the other things: great salsa, awesome crispy chips, jalapenos, guacamole, cilantro, and the crema. It’s delicious.
All the burgers are just designed to have the appearance of something that you want to jam in your face. They’re not meant to be a buttoned-up, clean burger. They’re meant to be on your hands, great and gooey, and you have to unhinge your jaw to get your mouth around it.
What led you down this plant path?
I have been on that path for a long time. I’m such an extreme animal lover. I think that meat just really started to lose its luster. There was this whole machismo about meat and all of that, which I found completely unappealing. People were just kind of like, “Oh, this pig!” and I’m like: “Whatever.”
To me, it takes a whole lot more care to make something that’s nuanced with a vegetable than a big hunk of meat just slapping on a board.
In March 2019, I went to a James Beard chef boot camp. There was a communal chef dinner, and they took us down and they told us like: “OK, now we’re going to take a life. We’re going to kill this goat.” I couldn’t believe it: They’re going to march out this lily white, beautiful, otherwise completely 100 percent healthy goat and then kill her right in front of us. The only reason why is because she stopped milking, and the financial impact of keeping a pet on a working farm doesn’t work. … Seeing that put everything into this focus of: “I’m going to do things very differently from now on.”
How would you describe the Boston food scene? What’s good? What should change?
My experience is that COVID has brought so many people together in understanding the political, financial part of how we need to be intertwined and active in the politics of our business, because it does matter. We do need policy and change. We do need all of those people backing us and supporting us. And I think that was a really good change for Boston. Because between Jody [Adams] and Nancy Caswell, and all of those people, they got together and really organized this group that then extended to New York. It started here, you know, to help get funding for struggling restaurants: Mass Restaurants United.
I think the current state of Boston restaurants is wounded but rallying. It’s just also nice to see people coming to the aid of others. I don’t hear a lot of people feeling super competitive against one another; people are really, actually genuinely trying to help each other now. And I think, if that had been the case all along, it would have been great.
What are your favorite restaurants when you’re not working? Where do you like to hang out?
You know, honestly, during the entirety of COVID, I didn’t go into the city once. [In Groton], I love Forge & Vine. On occasion, we’ll go to Gibbet Hill. I love going into Nashoba Winery. And then, when I’m not at home, I go straight to the coast. Literally anywhere in Portsmouth, I just adore. In Rye, I love The Carriage House. In Ogunquit, I go to M.C. Perkins Cove because I love Clark [Frasier] and Mark [Gaier]. They’re just great guys. When I go out to eat, I’m so happy to be on the other side. It’s really just about the experience and the view, and maybe there’s a bartender we know or a server we know, or the owners. That’s really what it’s all about. It’s just about having a good time. Life’s too short to pick anybody’s food apart.
What’s your snacking vice?
I really like Triscuits. Snickers bars, on occasion. And, back when I ate more meat and dairy, it was cottage cheese, for some reason.