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By Annika Tomlin | June 8, 2021

Before Beyond Meat and Impossible burgers, Ari Shapiro was inspired to create a vegan burger after hiking with his partner, Kerry Lane.

He craved a juicy burger and fries, with one stipulation — the patty had to be vegan.

“I’ve been plant based for almost 20 years,” Shapiro says.

“My partner, who is a vegan macrobiotic chef, and I were hiking in Canada, and we were craving In-N-Out or Shake Shack. We just started wondering why no one is making kind of a veggie version of Shake Shack — juicy, sloppy fries, Coke and cheap beer. We thought it was a great idea. We believe in it.”

After years of development, Shapiro and Lane opened Beaut Burger in Tucson in 2018. Phoenix’s location followed in March of this year.

“We were thinking Austin (as a second location) because my partner lived there before Tucson,” Shapiro says. “Austin is a very vibrant restaurant scene. Over the years, we started noticing a ton of vegan customers coming from Phoenix — we’re right off the interstate.

“The more Phoenix people we spoke to the more it just seemed like it was a good market up here for us. There were people who already knew about us, and it’s actually a strong plant-based scene up here.”

Shapiro stresses that, unlike other vegan or vegetarian burger options, Beaut doesn’t offer “mock meat” or “textured soy protein.”

“We are not trying to mimic meat. That was never the intention,” Shapiro says. “The intention was to recreate the hamburger-fry classic experience.

“We put as much thought into the patty, the bun, the fries, the drinks — all of it — because it was a holistic approach. What makes ours unique is that it’s unprocessed. It’s based on the idea of macrobiotics, which is like a balanced blend of whole vegetables, grains, spices, legumes. It’s gluten free.”

The Phoenix location has a sweet spot, too. It features Bristlecone Soft Serve and Shake. Shapiro says he and Lane thought it would be “cool” for customers to grab a shake or sundae while they were there.

Bristlecone offers a housemade waffle cone and seven shakes and soft serves, including the Grand Royal with vanilla soft serve, banana, peanut butter and nuts, and the High Violet shake, created with vanilla soft serve, white chocolate and lavender. Add rum to make it an adult shake.

Besides Bristlecone, there aren’t too many differences between the Tucson and Phoenix locations, Shapiro explains.

“We were always intrigued about doing a soft serve, shake, nondairy concept in Tucson, but we didn’t have the space for it,” Shapiro says. “We’re in a shipping container down there and our kitchen is like a shoebox, and all of this stuff takes a lot of equipment.

“Coming up here, there was really a nice opportunity to do the Bristlecone program. All of our seating in Tucson is outdoors because we are in the shipping container garden. Here, it is all indoors, except for our small patio. It’s like inverted seating.”

The top-selling items, which Shapiro jokes “keep the lights on,” include fries; cauli bites; and the B4 Burger made with griddled mushrooms, caramelized onions, Swiss cheese and mayo along with a vegan patty and a choice of bun.

“I came into this being a fry obsessive, and I think our fries are phenomenal,” Shapiro says.

He calls it “the perfect fry.” The kitchen uses expeller-pressed sunflower oil on the hand-cut, blanched potatoes.

“I’m a big fan of our fries,” he says.

Shapiro also loves the B5 Burger made with zhoug (jalapeno pesto), ranch, cucumber and lettuce.

“My new favorite is the Fooled Pork, the jackfruit sandwich,” Shaprio says. “I’m blown away at how great that came out.”

From beginning to now

As a self-proclaimed “word nerd,” Shapiro wanted his newest business to have a unique and creative name to match his other ventures, including Sparkroot, a veggie coffee shop, and Falora, a plant-centric wood-fired pizza joint.

“I’m particularly fond of made-up words, or if I can’t make up a word, my second favorite option is like a defunct word that used to be in linguistic use and has kind of fallen off,” Shapiro says.

“Beaut sort of fell into that category. It was used a lot in the ’50s and ’60s as slang. Farmers would say, ‘Look at my new tractor. Ain’t she a beaut?’ It’s used a lot in New Zealand and Australia, same kind of slang.”

As a shortened version of beautiful, Shapiro says he and Lane thought “Beaut Burger just flowed so well.”

“Even though we are a plant-based, fully vegan restaurant, we designed this for vegans, but we really designed this for omnivores,” says Shapiro, who adds it was important to create a buzz about its fries and burgers.

“In Tucson, some of our biggest fans are carnivores, and we are starting to see that a little up here, too,” Shapiro adds.

“It’s always the most pleasing part to me when people who aren’t necessarily vegan love the food here. Really we just want to be considered good food.”

That said, the hardest part about creating Beaut Burger was persuading prospective guests to believe in the concept, according to Shapiro.

“Three years ago, most people didn’t know about Beyond and Impossible. That is only within the last couple years,” Shapiro says.

“I think the hardest part of year one in Tucson was proving the concept and sticking with it. It was embraced by a large part of the Tucson community, but it also took time to kind of ingratiate ourselves to the city at large.”

Shapiro knows that not everyone will like the fully vegan menu but says “the people who like it love it, but there are some people who think it’s not 100% for them.”

In terms of the Phoenix location, Shapiro says the lease was signed prior to COVID-19. However, after the pandemic hit, he was forced to ask “some existential questions” about if he should move forward in the dwindling restaurant industry.

“It proved to be really difficult around all of the complexities around COVID, but it’s working,” Shapiro says.

Beaut Burger

3301 E. Indian School Road, Phoenix