Austin-based German street food chain plans new locations

News Editor

Döner kebaps are Germany’s number-one selling fast-food meal, and vendors sell the flavorful, grilled meat sandwiches on every corner. While studying at Southern Methodist University in the fall of 2008, Michael Heyne and Dominik Stein craved their favorite street food from home, but they and their friends could not find it anywhere.

That semester, while in the middle of their studies, the two came up with the idea to make a restaurant for Döner kebaps. Verts is a fast casual restaurant chain that started with two stores on the University of Texas at Austin’s campus in August 2011. CEOs and business partners Heyne and Stein now have seven locations. They are planning on opening 12 more Verts in the next year, with locations in Austin, Dallas and Houston.

“We saw how big fast food is here in the U.S. and that döner kebap simply didn’t exist,” Heyne said.

In a country known for its fast food, Heyne and Stein thought they had a unique opportunity to capitalize on a niche that Americans had not already filled. When Heyne and Stein returned to the University of Texas Austin in 2010 for graduate school, the details of their idea for a fast casual restaurant began to take shape.

The duo had no experience in the fast casual food industry, but they did not seem to think that was a problem. They observed other industry leaders such as Chipotle for the details but spent the bulk of their time focusing on the food. “We didn’t want to reinvent restaurants. They are invented already. What really mattered was our food,” Heyne said.

And the food has people coming back for more. Verts does very little marketing and relies heavily on word of mouth advertising. “The taste is our marketing,” Heyne said.

Heyne and Stein have tried to stay true to their German roots, but the kebap found at Verts has also evolved for American taste buds. A typical döner kebap found in Germany has grilled seasoned meat on bread topped with cabbage, lettuce, onion, and tomatoes. Vendors in Germany also only have two sauces: regular and garlic. Verts offers a variety of other colorful, fresh vegetables, with the most noticeable addition of jalapeños. “People go back to Germany now and miss the jalapeños,” Heyne said.

Like other fast casual restaurants, Verts has a bowl or wrap version of the traditional kebap. They also make five sauces in house that were specifically engineered to compliment each other.

This meal comes in a snack or regular size, and patrons can eat at Verts guilt free. A full meal, including sauces, comes to about 600 calories. “This combination of health and taste is very hard to find. It’s healthy, but the taste isn’t compromised,” Heyne said.

Since the first two Verts opened in August of 2011, two days after Heyne and Stein’s graduation from the University of Texas at Austin, the business partners planned for Verts to be a major restaurant chain. They planned for three years before their first store opened and sweated every detail. The height of the tables to the color and type of knife is standard in every Verts.

“All the effort, including switching a continent, would not be worth it for just a few restaurants,” Heyne said.