Independent Student Newspaper Since 1969

The Badger Herald

Independent Student Newspaper Since 1969

The Badger Herald

Independent Student Newspaper Since 1969

The Badger Herald


Vegan burger restaurant pushes State Street toward plant-based eating

Sookie’s founder started restaurant to ‘do something about climate change’
Abby Cima

Welcoming orange and green awnings and vibrant signage draw in passersby to Sookie’s, the fully vegan restaurant in Madison. Those who venture into the restaurant, located on the corner of the 500 block of State Street, are greeted by friendly workers and a menu full of different plant-based burgers.

Inside Sookie’s, booths with crayons and paper scatter the establishment and the walls are adorned with pictures of dogs and sketches of flowers and rainbows. Nearing the register, the walls are covered in depictions of broccoli — art that is in line with the plant-based virtues of the restaurant. 

An edible spoon business turned restaurant, Sookie’s is founded and owned by John McCune, who started his business as a food truck in Milwaukee, then moved to Madison and opened the State Street restaurant last spring. 


McCune originally tried to name the restaurant after himself, but changed it after his girlfriend made fun of him. McCune changed the name to “Sookie”  after his girlfriend’s dog.

Sookie’s beginnings

McCune has no past experience in the restaurant industry, but he became vegetarian because he felt it was important to play a part in combatting climate change. To do this, he debated between going into politics or starting a restaurant.

Starting a vegan food business just made sense to McCune because food is a daily necessity for everyone, so he could reach a large audience.

Though he is still considering politics in the future, Sookie’s is his prime focus right now.

One of Sookie’s goals is to make vegan food more financially accessible. Sookie’s offers “regulars” pricing for customers who eat there regularly. Just tell the cashier you have been there in the last two weeks, and you get $2 off. 

McCune said Sookie’s is cheaper compared to other restaurants on State Street and the surrounding area. He noted that plant-based burgers are expensive elsewhere.

“I’ve always been a burger guy, since I was little,” McCune said. “As soon as I went vegetarian, there was nothing available.”

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Sookie’s has a small menu, but all of it is vegan and delicious. They offer a vegan chicken sandwich and two types of plant-based burgers. They also serve amazing tater tots and vegan brunch options offered every day. 

Junior at the University of Wisconsin Ellen Fricker says she would recommend Sookie’s to anyone. 

Focus on sustainability

McCune goes beyond just food sustainability. They exemplify sustainability in other ways as well. 

McCune said one of the challenges he faced in starting his restaurant was ensuring that their supply chain is fully sustainable. He did not want to receive ingredients from suppliers that are not vegan or using environmentally responsible practices. 

Sookie’s also doesn’t use any plastic products. Instead, everything is biodegradable. They use paper bags and paper packaging. Sookie’s also has only electric equipment. 

“We’re trying to do something about climate change, and we’re doing it two ways,” McCune said. “Through the product that we’re producing and we’re doing it through changing people’s minds about their own ability to be more sustainable.” 

Sookie’s also supports other sustainable and local businesses by selling their products. They source their cupcakes from an in-home business called Eastside Cakes. Sookie’s also sells Karben4 Brewing products and use True Hippie Cleaning products, which are both Madison-based businesses. 

Fricker said Sookie’s support for small businesses makes her want to keep going back to the restaurant. 

Winter Restaurant Week is back

Sookie’s also hosts several events a month which they share on their Instagram. The events include Thursday trivia nights with free tots and discounted seltzers. This past Halloween, Sookie’s hosted a costume night, karaoke night and several plant-based painting nights.

McCune hopes to see Sookie’s as a drive-thru in the future. He wants to expand the restaurant throughout Wisconsin and beyond.

So far, Sookie’s has had no problems finding employees because it is a very positive work environment, McCune said.

Fricker can attest to the positive environment in Sookie’s, calling it a “fantastic dining experience.”

“The positive and cutting-edge atmosphere of the restaurant makes me want to keep coming back,” Fricker. “The food is delicious and the small menu allows me to make a choice quickly about what I am in the mood for.”

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