After reading a book in college, John McCune, a life-long “heavy” meat-eater, decided to go vegan to help support sustainable food practices.

However, McCune quickly found there weren’t many good, tasty vegan options at the grocery store or at restaurants. Even with places like Burger King or KFC leaning into Impossible Foods and Beyond Meat, he found that options were incredibly limited.

“Unless you just want to eat potatoes all the time, there isn’t much for [vegans],” McCune says. “I wanted an entire menu that was plant-based, not just one small option.”

He set out to make his own plant-based eatery, purchasing a food cart in 2019 and launching his new business in Milwaukee that fall. McCune settled on the name Sookie’s, after the family dog, since his partner said naming the cart after himself would be “such a guy thing to do.”

After a few successful events, McCune says he looked at 2020 as the year Sookie’s could break out. However, COVID-19 put a damper on things. McCune set up a touchless drive-thru option for his food truck, and found himself with a line of cars that would last for hours.

“That was a logistical nightmare, but somehow it worked out,” he says.

Following more than a year of selling veggie burgers in Milwaukee, McCune and his partner moved to Madison in 2021, so she could pursue a graduate degree at the University of Wisconsin–Madison. The food truck moved with them, and after a few events this fall, McCune decided it was time to look for a permanent location.

“[In downtown Madison] we’ve got a large college community that’s probably looking for vegan products,” McCune says. “We had a lot of people ask us ‘hey when will you be back,’ when we sold from the food truck.”

There was availability on the 500 block of State Street, and McCune jumped at the opportunity to open a brick and mortar Sookie’s. The restaurant, opened last Wednesday, aims to offer sustainable foods and biodegradable packaging.

“If you walk down State Street right now, you just smell grease the entire way walking down the street,” McCune says. “We’re just trying to take a little bit of that out of the air, and clean up our act a little bit. I think we need to offer people better options to eat, or at least offer more healthy options.”

He says that his route of choosing all vegan foods, and biodegradable packaging will set an example for other businesses in the area. Sustainability is built into every part of Sookie’s, which McCune says is “the right thing to do.”

“We’re not taking shortcuts, it definitely cost us more money to pay for these products, but it just makes sense,” he says. “We’re here to provide some damn good veggie burgers for Madison.”

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