In Conversation with Andrea Kerzner of Lekka Burger
Describe your business in a few words?
Lekka Burger is a plant-powered burger restaurant I launched with acclaimed vegetarian chef Amanda Cohen in NYC. We serve delicious plant-based burgers, salads, fries and shakes out of our Tribeca location, and also ship specialty burger kits nationwide.
What made you take the leap to start your own business?
Lekka Burger was born out of my personal desire to share healthy and delicious plant-powered food that also helps heal our earth. I have MS and have been vegan for 8 years, and recently I was taken off all my medication as my MS seemed to be in remission. I attribute this to a plant-based diet. I have children and wanted to do something to heal our planet so given my plant-based health experience as well as knowing the detrimental effect of the cattle industry, I decided to go into competition with the meat burger fast casual industry by creating the most delicious, all natural plant-based burger restaurant. Burgers that are Made in a Kitchen, Not in a Lab.
What was your background prior to starting your own business?
I grew up in the hospitality industry and sat on the board of a large international resort chain for years, and still sit on the Board of the University of Johannesburg’s School of Tourism and Hospitality. This also inspired me to go into the restaurant industry. In addition to my background in hospitality, in 2010 I founded Lalela, a non profit organisation, whose mission is to provide educational arts to at risk youth sparking creative thinking and awakening the entrepreneurial spirit. We presently have 4000 students in South Africa, Zimbabwe and Uganda. I am still the CEO of Lalela but have an excellent Executive Director that runs the day to day operations from our office in Cape Town as my focus presently is on scaling up Lekka Burger.
Did you always know you wanted to be an entrepreneur?
When I first started college I wanted to be a Clinical Psychologist but after doing my MBA and taking classes in New Venture Development, I knew that I wanted to one day start my own venture.
Take us back to when you first launched your business, what was your marketing strategy to get the word out and did it go as planned?
We launched Lekka Burger to critical acclaim in NYC. We were featured in places like Vogue, Eater, The New Yorker, and more. Our strategy out of the gate was to give consumers a really high quality alternative to meat burgers in a restaurant environment that was comfortable, engaging and inviting. This is clear in every facet of our business–from our branding, to the design of our restaurant, to the way we’ve priced and architected our menu. Media and influencers picked up on our mission and loved our product, and we engaged with them on social media, through our newsletter and with impeccable service in our restaurant.
We always learn the most from our mistakes, share a time with us that you made a mistake or had a challenging time in business and what you learned from it?
My biggest mistake was saying no to an opportunity due to fear of failure. I learned from that to accept the risk of failure if one wishes to succeed. Most people fail at some point and it is important to look at any failure as an important learning opportunity.
What is the accomplishment you are the most proud of to date?
Personally, it has been raising 2 amazing kids who are now young adults. Professionally, it has been creating a non-profit that has changed the lives of many young people and now hopefully at the beginning of a journey with Lekka Burger to help heal our planet.
When hiring for your team, what is your go-to interview question? Please share any hiring tips you can share from your experience?
It was crucial for us to hire people that believe in our mission–to bring the world a better plant-based burger. That doesn’t mean they had to be vegan or had to love burgers, but it did mean they needed to have that empathetic characteristic that makes for incredible service, and shows that they care deeply about our work in the restaurant. I think hiring people that share your values and your vision for growth is a key component in all hiring practices.
How has your business or industry been impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic?
We have been badly impacted as we are located in the southern part of Tribeca and opened 4 months before the enforced lockdown. Our lunch time customers were from the many offices in the area which are now sitting empty. We had to pivot strategically to launch burgers kits for both nationwide and local delivery/pickup via places like Goldbelly and Baldor. That has been a key element in sustaining your business.
What’s next for your business? What can we expect to see over the next few years?
During this past year, we transitioned to getting our burgers directly to our customers via Goldbelly and Baldor. We are working on a Direct to Consumer CPG strategy for our patties, and keen to go up against Beyond and Impossible on grocery store shelves. I believe we will be successful as they have opened the door to vegan patties becoming more mainstream. Our patties are all natural (not lab-grown) and created by a chef in a kitchen, so we have a differentiating factory. We will also be looking to open more Lekka Burger dine-in and delivery spaces around the New York area with the intent to go national over the next few years.
What is the biggest lesson you have learned in 2020?
To remain optimistic in the face of adversity.
What do you know now that you wish you knew when you were first starting your business?
That COVID-19 would be impacting us so soon after opening!
How have you managed to stay grounded this year?
Daily meditation, long walks, yoga and focusing on the present.
Do you believe in work/life balance? What are some of your best tips?
Yes, I think it is vitally important. In fact, it is incorporated into Lekka Burger’s core values for our team. Once again being able to stay present focused so that when you are home with family or out with friends you enjoy those moments rather than worrying about what is happening elsewhere. I schedule me-time time into my calendar.
What’s something our audience would be surprised to learn about you?
I have fallen hook, line and sinker for my mini goldendoodle puppy, Lola.
What are your top 3 tips to stay productive each day?
Prioritise a list of to-do’s into your calendar for the next day. Treat your mind and body well by sleeping enough hours and waking up every day early enough to spend some quiet time before beginning your day, as well as time for your exercise routine. Take time between meetings and tasks to go for a short walk to breathe fresh air… this will keep you alert and focused.
What does being an Entreprenista mean to you?
A female entrepreneur who is passionate and fearless.