A noble calling: Veggie burgers that taste good

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Crissanne and Elizabeth Raymond started selling NoBull Burgers at Charlottesville's City Market, but now the company's reach expands as far west as Colorado, with California in the owners' sights. Photo: Martyn Kyle Crissanne and Elizabeth Raymond started selling NoBull Burgers at Charlottesville’s City Market, but now the company’s reach expands as far west as Colorado, with California in the owners’ sights. Photo: Martyn Kyle

Crissanne Raymond developed an original veggie burger recipe more than 30 years ago in her hometown of St. Thomas in the Virgin Islands. Riffing off of her mother’s lentil soup recipe, she built a burger from a lentil and barley base, flavored it with roasted vegetables and tamari, and used it to feed her growing family.

“Fast forward a few decades and five kids later, and she was living in Charlottesville and running her own catering business,” says Raymond’s daughter, Elizabeth. The family had long mused about a veggie burger enterprise, and after selling her stake in local catering company Glorious Foods, Raymond teamed up with daughters Elizabeth and Heather to launch NoBull Burger in 2011. The venture, like the burgers, began organically.

“Mom had experience installing a kitchen and getting it certified, so we set one up on East Market Street, and our first sales were at the farmer’s market,” recalls Elizabeth. “We had a grill, gave out samples, and sold sandwiches and two-packs. Those first sales gave us a spurt of affirmation that this was something we could really do.” Their younger brother came up with the name NoBull as a triple entendre—alluding to no meat, no nonsense, and the “noble” aspect of an organic, gourmet product.

Raymond, a UVA graduate, had waited tables downtown all through school and had restaurant contacts willing to put the burgers on the menu, where they garnered good reviews. “At the farmer’s market, we met the owners of Bodo’s as well as a coordinator of the Whole Foods local program, plus lots of local chefs, which were great connections,” she says. Bodo’s features a NoBull sandwich on its menu (tip: Topping it with a fried egg is a fan favorite).

From there, things picked up speed. The sisters went door-to-door with samples, placing NoBull in Rebecca’s Natural Food, Integral Yoga, Market Street Market, and in restaurants like The Nook and now-defunct Positively Fourth Street. “We took lots of sales trips to Richmond and D.C.,” says Raymond, “and by 2015 we had our burgers in 22 Whole Foods including Virginia Beach, northern Virginia, and Maryland.” Now their reach extends as far west as Colorado with an eye toward California markets.

The Raymonds attribute NoBull’s steady success to the product’s unique taste and purity. “Other veggie burgers are labeled vegan or vegetarian, but the ingredients are full of oils, fillers, additives, and unpronounceable things, and they taste like cardboard,” Raymond says. “With NoBull, you could go to the grocery store and buy our ingredients. Your grandma would know what they are.”

Having expanded from the original burger to three other flavors—mushroom and roasted garlic, spicy Italian, and tomato and spinach—NoBull is launching a fourth, Madras Curry, in January, along with updated branding and packaging. Raymond is proud of how far they’ve come. “We started 100 percent by ourselves, with no investors, and it has at times been a struggle,” she says. “But we’re resilient and resourceful women, and we really believe in what we’re doing.”

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