VEGGIE DECADENCE Silly’s (40 Washington Ave.; sillys.com) makes its Zombie Burger by topping a deep-fried Blue Mango burger with mozzarella, spinach, onion, tomato, pineapple, jalapenos, and spicy sauce on garlic bread.
Chances are you've walked by 648 Congress Street and never realized it's the production headquarters for a well-known vegetarian staple. That's because the only indication is a brightly colored, polka-dotted label with the Blue Mango Veggie Burgers logo taped to the front door.
Inside, Constantino Lallo is busy pounding out patty after patty. The veggie burger is his own recipe — the result of two months of experimentation while he worked as the chef at his former restaurant, Blue Mango Café, which opened in 1997 in the space about to be vacated by Food Factory Miyake on Spring Street. (Don't panic: Miyake's moving to Fore Street.)
Lallo didn't set out to make veggie burgers; he isn't even a vegetarian, but his eclectic clientele and lack of purchasable options forced his hand. "There wasn't a veggie burger on the market that I liked — most of them were heinous — so I started throwing together my own recipe," he says. The burger is made with seven ingredients: onions, black beans, bread crumbs, spinach, rice, and spices. Before he knew it, people were coming in asking for the veggie burger.
But in 2001, Lallo and his partner, Shelley Stevens, were forced to abruptly close the café due to lease issues. "We tried for a couple years to resurrect it and then we thought 'How could we take the skills and our following and why not just market the burger?'" says Stevens.
The timing for a new business was terrible and perfect at the same time, she says. "People were becoming more conscious of what they were eating and feeding their kids and while it was a horrible time to start a business [because of the economy], the trend of healthy eating made it good timing. I'd say it was our saving grace," she says.
Making the shift from restaurateur to manufacturer wasn't simple. "It was a lengthy and eye-opening process and we thought all we had to do was just slap a label on it and get people to buy it, but it wasn't that easy," she says. The couple originally planned to make the burgers from their kitchen, but realized food regulations meant they had to acquire a commercial space. So the couple set up shop on Congress Street four years ago.
Lallo still makes all the burgers himself. He starts by slow-cooking onions, chopping them in a household-grade food processor and mixing all the ingredients in a giant silver bowl, literally by hand. Then he measures out 4.5-ounce balls, presses them into a round mold to form patties, and puts them in the freezer to later be vacuum-sealed and boxed for distribution.
We're not talking just a few burgers either. Lallo says he can make 600 patties a day and hopes to hit the 100,000 mark this year, up from last year's total of 86,000. The burgers are sold in 31 Whole Foods, eight Hannafords, and about 115 restaurants and specialty grocery stores.