Saturday saw the San Francisco opening of the up-and-coming plant-based fast-food chain Mr. Charlie’s, whose menu items and promotions clown on Ronald McDonald and the broader McDonald’s franchise.
The chicken sandwich wars have been a focal point for the fast-food industry as well as several respected local restaurateurs since 2019. Yet now a new war (or maybe more just some David-taunting-Goliath antics) is being waged at SF Union Square at the corner of Sutter and Stockton streets. The McDonald’s at 441 Sutter Street opened in 2015, and its McChickens have ruled the fast food roost there since. But on Saturday, a plant-based fast-food competitor called Mr. Charlie’s opened across the street at 432 Sutter Street, and, well, you can see whose eye they’re poking a finger into with some of their iconography below.
Mr. Charlie’s is a vegan fast-food place with one location in Los Angeles, and they opened their Union Square location here Saturday. According to their Instagram promotion below, “In honor of our Sf opening we will be offering free mini frowny meals at both locations this Saturday, Jan 21st from 11:11am-1:11pm.”
But from the Yelp pictures and Instagram embeds from Saturday, there was clearly plenty more than just “free mini frowny meals” being served up. HEEE-heeee, is that a Michael Jackson impersonator they brought in for the occasion? Not the choice I would have made since the release of a certain 2019 documentary exposé, but people seem excited in the pictures.
While this SF Mr. Charlie’s location opened Saturday, their food has been available on delivery apps since December. The Mr. Charlie’s menu is surprisingly simple, and highly derivative of McDonald’s and In-N-Out: items are called Not a Hamburger, Not a Cheeseburger, Not a Double Double, Not Chicken Nuggets, and the combo meals are called Frowny Meals. The french fries are normal french fries, as potatoes are already plant-based, and yes their imitation beef is Impossible Burgers from Impossible Foods.
There’s probably an appetite for a new cult-hit California burger chain in the wake of In-N-Out’s anti-vaccine shenanigans. And that it’s vegan, with likely a little less indigestion involved, is probably a plus. The big question facing this franchise is whether McDonald’s is going to sue them for aping those names and logos. When asked by the Los Angeles Times about this, co-founder and SF native Charlie Kim merely told the Times, “No idea what you mean. I really want to get people eating plant-based food. That’s the goal here.”
Image: John P via Yelp