Mr. Charlie's vegan fast food restaurant is more than a viral sensation

A new fast food restaurant called Mr. Charlie's has become a viral sensation, with millions of people watching celebrities and influencers review the vegan restaurant on TikTok.

The restaurant opened just three months ago on Valentine's Day on La Brea Avenue in the Melrose District. It was founded by Charlie and Taylor. Charlie leased the space last May because he loved the neighborhood but did not have a vision at the time. Taylor and his business partner Aaron became fast friends with Charlie and created the vegan restaurant.

"We just really came up with an amazing brand, and it was all about how we're gonna make this really fun because the restaurant business, the reality is it isn't fun," Charlie said. "There are a lot of risks and it's not fun. This [Mr. Charlie's] is fun."

The restaurant offers plant-based versions of common fast food items such as a cheeseburger that uses an Impossible burger and vegan cheese, and Impossible nuggets and fries. Their meal is called the "Frowny Meal."

"We are breaking the stigma on vegan plant-based food. A lot of people have got this thing that vegan food doesn't taste very good, and it's actually pretty exceptional," said Taylor.

The restaurant has exploded in popularity due to its food and branding. TikTok users have nicknamed the restaurant the "Vegan McDonald's." However, the founders said they are making their own big brand.

"It's a plant-based burger made possible by a great team of people but it's the why. When you digest Mr. Charlie's 'Not a Cheeseburger,' you digest all of our failure, all of our success, all of our heartache, tears, laughter, our whole journey collectively as a team," said Taylor.  

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The team is about giving back to the community and works with the LA Dream Center, which is a center offering tools, resources, education, support and housing to people battling homelessness and addiction, or transitioning out of incarceration.

"If you could just imagine a hospital that never sleeps, that's open 24/7, that's willing to take in anybody who is in need, that's the mission of the Dream Center every single day," said Pastor Matthew Barnett, the Founder of the LA Dream Center.  

Mr. Charlie's only has eleven employees, and all of them come from the Dream Center. The relationship with the Dream Center was formed after Taylor, one of the co-founders, lived there to receive help while he was homeless with his family.

"I felt compelled to give him [Taylor] a thousand dollars, and little did I realize that would become the seed that would get him back on his feet again and get him dreaming again and back to life again," said Barnett.

Years later, Mr. Charlie's was born, and Taylor contacted Barnett about working with him to employ Dream Center participants.

"It wasn't long ago, just several months ago, he texted me and said can I use the workers to build the core values of who we are as a company and that is to give people a second chance or third chance or whatever it takes," said  Barnett.

Susanna, a mother of four, now works for Mr. Charlie's as a manager after living at the Dream Center for nine months. She came to the center from Arizona.

"I wanted to get out of Arizona to change my life, leave the past and start a future for my children to give them hope. I had years of addiction and I just wanted to leave that behind me and find a place where I can be confident in myself, lay a foundation down for my children, give them a future and just leave those generational curses behind us," said Susanna.

She said the Dream Center gave her "recovery and healing," and has now helped her land a job at Mr. Charlie's.

"I feel very honored to be at Mr. Charlie's. It's about feeding the community, bringing in the community to give them jobs and give them hope when they might have been overlooked because of their past or things they've done wrong," said Susanna.

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Susanna said she wants to continue sharing her story too.  

"I want to continue to allow women to see my story and be an example for those that may have lost their children. I have lost my children in the past and got them back through perseverance and fighting and just asking God to give me the strength and wisdom to know the difference," she said.

Barnett said partnerships with businesses like Mr. Charlie's are instrumental.

"These partnerships are so important, and the reason why is they can do things we can't do. We can help rehabilitate, house, feed them every single day, help them save money, but to have people on the outside come in and say 'Look we'll take it from here, we'll carry the baton for the next leg of people's lives,' I think that's what it's going to take to solve the issue of homelessness - people doing what they do very well and the business leaders coming alongside and not being afraid to take a chance and to take a risk on formerly risky people," said Barnett.

The founders plan to open more Mr. Charlie's locations and make it a household name.

"We are expanding very fast. You will see them [Mr. Charlie's] everywhere. It's happening. We're excited. We're just grateful to be living this dream," said Taylor.