For the better part of a decade, software engineer Genga Ponnampalam spent his workweek writing computer programs. The weekend was for veggie burgers.
Since getting laid off last year, the Sri Lankan entrepreneur has been working on taking those veggie burgers big-time. "It's going good right now," said Ponnampalam. "People like my stuff, especially the gluten-free, vegan, local products."
Shortly after graduating from the University at Buffalo in 2001, Ponnampalam started selling vegetarian burgers under his Go Veggie brand.
After a 2005 fire destroyed the Massachusetts Avenue Project that housed his fledgling company, Ponnampalam found space on Sheridan Drive in the Town of Tonawanda for his industrial kitchen. Today his veggie burgers, in four flavors, can be found at Dash's Markets, Budwey's and the Lexington Co-op, along with mango pudding and other vegetarian options.
So are you a vegetarian for religious, cultural or other reasons?
Partly religion, partly culture. My parents are vegetarians. In Sri Lanka, my family grows rice, bananas and vegetables in an organic way.
Did you use family recipes for the veggie burgers?
It's a blend. Some are family recipes, blended with American food styles. We don't have veggie burgers back home.
How many burgers are we talking about?
During the summertime I make around 3,000 to 5,000 burgers a month. Winter is slow. But I'm working with a distributor, and my products should be available at Wegmans pretty soon.
What's your biggest seller?
Spinach are at the top of the list. A lot of people like the spinach burger.
Well, that's good -- you're giving people another way to eat their spinach.
A couple of months ago, I introduced mushroom burgers. People like it in Buffalo -- they like something with a meat sort of flavor, so that's selling good too.