Hulu's The Bear gave American viewers a glimpse of a bustling kitchen in the heart of Chicago, putting one of the city's legendary sandwiches in the spotlight: Italian Beef. Since the show's release, searches for the sandwich have almost doubled, according to Google Trends. To help hungry, curious plant-based customers, Chicago-based companies Upton's Naturals and Buona have teamed up to develop the Plant-Based Italian Beef and Gravy for retailers nationwide.

Buona –– the midwestern chain famous for its affordable Italian Beef sandwiches –– developed the plant-based alternative to its signature sandwich with the help of Upton's expertise in the plant-based protein sector. The frozen meal is currently available at Fresh Thyme, Jewel-Osco, and Whole Foods stores for $7.49.

The plant-based beef sandwich features a custom-made gravy that helps replicate the juiciness of traditional Italian Beef sandwiches. Similar to the original Buona family recipe, the sandwich is packed with oregano, garlic, and pepper. The ready-to-eat product is packed with 36 grams of protein per serving.

Buona's First Vegan Sandwich in 40 Years

Buona currently operates 26 locations across Illinois, Indiana, and Colorado, but plans to franchise in the coming years. Preparing for national expansion, the restaurant launched its first plant-based sandwich in 24 years. With the help of Upton's, the company debuted the Plant-Based Italian Beefless Sandwich at all locations. The chain sold out in 24 hours.

“Our plan was to see if people loved the Plant-Based Italian ‘Beef’ as much as we did – and the good news is that they loved it even more than we could have imagined.” Candice Jordan, Buona’s director of marketing, said. “The outstanding support of the vegan community really helped make this a permanent menu item. It has become one of our most popular menu items and that is really great to see.”

Following the outstanding success, Buona announced that it plans to make the beefless sandwich a permanent menu item. The company aims to cater to the growing number of vegans, vegetarians, and flexitarians in both the Chicago area and the United States.

Choosing Plant-Based Over Beef for Your Heart

Buono's beloved meat-heavy menu gave customers no options for heart-healthy meals until it launched its beefless Italian sandwich. Chowing down on an original Italian Beef can increase your risk of heart disease by 18 percent, according to a study from the University of Oxford. Plant protein can even revert some causes of mortality. Another study found that consuming plant-based protein can reduce your risk of several diseases, including heart disease.

“Among major protein sources, comparing the highest with the lowest [amount] of consumption, processed red meat or eggs was associated with a higher risk of all‐cause mortality," the study found. "Unprocessed red meat, eggs, or dairy products, were associated with a higher risk of cardiovascular disease mortality.”

Buona's affordable beef sandwiches make it easy for customers to eat red meat. But now, the fast-food chain is providing customers the opportunity to eat healthier for an appropriate price point. For younger generations, introducing a plant-centered diet between the years 18 to 30 years old can significantly help lower the risk of heart disease 30 years later. Choosing an affordable, beefless sandwich now can help protect your heart decades later.

For more plant-based happenings, visit The Beet's News articles

The 6 Best Fast Food Chains With Plant-Based Options on the Menu

Fast-food restaurants have finally got the memo that their customer base isn’t just coming through for a burger, fried chicken, or a beef taco. Many now have plant-based foods and are coming up with creative, delicious ways to get more greens on the menu. Here are the 6 best fast-food chains with plant-based options on the menu.

More From The Beet