Veg Restaurants: Why Some Thrive & Others Fail

by Anjali Sareen on April 24, 2012

The Wall Street Journal ran a piece last month entitled “When A Tofu Dog Can’t Cut The Mustard.” Focusing on the closures of not-so-prominent vegan and vegetarian restaurants in New York City, the article comes to the conclusion that veg-ism, though once the “hip” thing to do, is a dying trend and the failing businesses mentioned are evidence of that fact.

Riddled with insufficiently conclusory statements, the arguments in this piece simply don’t hold up under closer scrutiny.

The article begins with the example of Kate’s Joint, a once-popular vegetarian restaurant on the Lower East Side of Manhattan. Having recently closed after trying desperately to raise funds, the piece quotes owner Kate Halpern as stating, “I hate to admit it, but put bacon on it, and they will come.” Referencing a quote from PR exec and blogger Joey Arak, the author of the piece, Laura Kusisto, implies that the trend among hipsters in the East Village was once to be vegetarian, and now, the trend is to eat “heritage pork.” Apparently, according to Kusisto, “owners and diners” have also said that the “tastes of young hipsters” are shifting away from vegetarianism.

Were that true, it would come as a big surprise to this writer and many others. In fact, over the past few years, the trend in vegetarian and veganism has grown tremendously. The USDA in 2009 endorsed vegetarian and vegan diets as being healthy for the first time. In 2011, USA Today reported that a whopping 47 percent of Americans were trying to reduce their meat consumption. Harris interactive also recently released a study indicating that the number of vegans has doubled in the US in the last three years alone.

A more likely explanation is that the course of a business is determined by the dedication, relevancy, and heart of its founders. As anyone who has been there can attest, Kate’s Joint was a great place for all kinds of vegetarian eats, but didn’t seem as though much love and energy went into the running of the restaurant. The quote by owner Halpern also indicates that she, herself, had no faith that vegetarianism in the restaurant world was sustainable, and could even be successful, and therefore, may have fulfilled her own prophecy. In the past few years, the owners of popular vegan restaurant Blossom have opened upwards of four new restaurants. The owners of Candle 79, one of the best known and best-loved vegan restaurants in the world have just opened their third cafe on the upper west side of Manhattan. Countless vegan business have opened, grown, and been more successful than ever in the last decade, so to insinuate that overall, vegetarianism is a dying trend because it’s no longer the “punk-rock” thing to do seems careless.

As well, the article quotes Dave LaPoint, the owner of Curly’s Vegetarian Lunch here in NYC as stating about his vegetarian restaurant, “…there’s a lot of labor that goes into trying to make cardboard taste like something.” When the owner of the place has no faith in his own product, how can he expect his customers to?

Conversely, the owner of Terri vegan restaurant here in Manhattan, states, “In today’s world you have to live the lifestyle if you own a vegan restaurant. There are so many exciting things happening today in the vegan food world that if you blink you’ll miss something and as a business owner it’s critical to not get left behind.”

The article itself notes that Halpern, the owner of Kate’s, is not a vegetarian herself. It would seem difficult to run a vegetarian restaurant if you can’t relate to your own customers. The owners of the aforementioned businesses and many others – Blossom, Candle, Terri, Sweet & Sara, etc. – are all vegan themselves and find themselves thriving in a world where they know what’s hot, feel the same way about food as their customers, and truly bring heart and dedication to their business.

Image Source HeyPatrick

Anjali Sareen

Anjali is the creator and Editor-in-Chief of Intellectualyst, as well as a vegan and lawyer in NYC. Read about her life adventures on her blog, Anjalism.com. She loves trying new vegan recipes and meeting new people! Email her at anjali@intellectualyst.com or find her on Facebook and Twitter today!
View all posts by Anjali Sareen ->

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{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

Rhea Parsons Rhea April 24, 2012 at 3:04 pm

How sad is it to hear people speak about vegan food this way? While I’m sad to hear about Kate’s Joint, I can’t say I’m shocked. I’ve been there and the food wasn’t that great; neither was the service. On the other hand, as mentioned in the article, Blossom and Candle Cafe are building empires because both their food and their service are wonderful. Their hearts are in it and you can feel that (and taste it) every visit.

I am surprised by the comments made by Dave LaPoint since Curly’s is the place we miss more than anywhere else since leaving the city. It’s Curly’s that my husband and I talk about everyday since they make vegan “diner-type” food better than anyone else.

Upstate vegan places are few and far between but The Garden Cafe in Woodstock does well, always busy (you have to have reservations) because the food is delicious and the service is so good.

Whether or not a restaurant does well may less to do with vegan trends than it does with providing delicious food and friendly, respectful service that people will come back for again and again.

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