By Chloe Aiello

Vegan fast-casual restaurant By CHLOE plans to capitalize on growing interest in vegan and plant-based diets by more than tripling the amount of locations it operates in the U.S. and abroad. CEO Patrik Hellstrand said By CHLOE is "ready to take it to the next level" by gearing up to expand from 13 to more than 50 locations in the U.S. by 2023, as well as licensing locations internationally in Canada, the UK, and the Middle East.

"You will see us more in the West Coast, East Coast, and maybe in some other parts of the country. And we also took on some capital last year that helps us grow on the people side as well," Hellstrand said. "It's more about getting to call it 50 units in the next couple of years, and we also have an international strategy."

In April of last year, the plant-based restaurant chain secured $31 million in a funding round led by Bain Capital. The company had initially planned to open about 20 locations from 10, but bumped its ambitions, bolstered by the leadership of Hellstrand, a former executive at Oath Pizza and Equinox, who joined By CHLOE in late 2018.

Founded in New York City in 2015, By CHLOE hasn't been without controversy in its relatively short lifespan. Restaurant group ESquared Hospitality, which owned By CHLOE until it was established as an independent entity in April 2018, terminated ties with chef and co-founder Chloe Coscarelli in 2017 after an arbitrator determined she demonstrated gross negligence of the business, Eater reported. Coscarelli and ESquared have been tangled in lawsuits since.

The controversy clearly hasn't harmed the restaurant's growth ambitions, which Hellstrand said are fueled by the appetite for plant-based living.

"We are very much about whole, plant-based food, which is obviously a growing trend," Hellstrand said, adding that By CHLOE helps people fulfill people's desire for healthy, environmentally friendly food choices.

Although only about 6 percent of Americans considered themselves vegan in 2017, that number is still a 600 percent increase from the 1 percent who claimed to be vegan in 2014, according to a report on trends in prepared food. And there are more and more options for consumers looking to purchase plant-based alternatives, like the Beyond Burgerー a realistic meat alternative from Beyond Meat, which filed for an IPO in March.

But don't be looking for a Beyond Burger or its meatless competitor the Impossible Burger at By CHLOE anytime soon. Hellstrand said the company is "proud" of its decision to avoid serving those products.

"We are believers in whole foods, plant-based food, so we like making our own food, because we know what goes in it," he said. "We don't knock any of the others, but we do think we have a unique differentiating point of view by having our own food supply."