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Veggie Grill raises $20 million to build on healthy eating trend

By Lisa Baertlein

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Veggie Grill raised $20 million from current stakeholders and new investors to bolster its expansion and capitalize on the growing popularity of healthy dining options, the Santa Monica, California-based restaurant company said on Monday.

It is the fourth round of equity funding for the vegetarian restaurant chain, whose menu includes dishes such as the "All Hail Kale" salad. The privately-held company declined to disclose its valuation.

The investment lands amid growing interest in restaurants that put greater emphasis on healthy food made with ingredients such as organic produce, antibiotic-free meats and vegetable protein. Chains in that group range from national players such as Chipotle Mexican Grill Inc and Panera Bread Co to upstarts Lyfe Kitchen and True Food Kitchen.

Veggie Grill plans to open new restaurants in Los Angeles, Orange County, San Diego and Seattle during the first half of this year.

The company doubled its restaurant count to 16 last year and is on track to double that number again within the next 18 months, executives said.

A substantial portion of the capital from the latest round came from Brentwood Associates, a California-based private equity firm.

Brentwood has a "substantial" minority position in Veggie Grill and is its largest single shareholder. Bill Barnum, a Brentwood partner, and Rahul Aggarwal, its managing director, will join Veggie Grill's board of directors.

(Reporting By Lisa Baertlein in Los Angeles; Editing by Alden Bentley)