Vegan Restaurants-The Time Has Come

Eat and Two Veg

One Less V-F Restaurant

Perhaps it’s because there are so few vegan-friendly restaurants to begin with, or maybe I’ve got a case of vegan selective attention, but it sure seems that restaurants catering to vegan/vegetarians fail more than traditional restaurants.

Recently, I was describing London’s critically acclaimed vegetarian diner “Eat and Two Veg” to a house guest. Ebullient with memories of discovering the restaurant during a business trip to the UK, I went online to retrieve their amazing menu of comfort foods including Rendang Curry, Moroccan Tagine, and my favorite, Crispy Aromatic Luck (a seitan version of Peking Duck).

Wishfully thinking a “Page Not Found” response from E&2V’s website was a temporary glitch, I did a search and learned the restaurant had closed down last December, after 6 years of operation. Although I live in Tokyo, and don’t know when I’d get to eat there again, E&2V was nonetheless an institution for vegans and omnivores alike. My 3 meals at E&2V were among the highlights of my London visit (see “London-Vegetarian Heaven“) and a must-go for my next visit.

I tried in vain to find out details of why E&2V closed (it’s possible the owners had made enough profit, and wanted to quit while they were ahead?), and whether someone would be picking up the baton (if any readers has the inside scoop, please leave your comments here, by all means). Otherwise, I will take some solace in knowing that there’s (always?) Mildred’s in London’s Soho.

While E&2V’s 6 year run may be long for the restaurant business, examples of vegan restaurants closures are all too prevalent:

-Mr. Goodburgers, a meatless burger chain launched in Hawaii in 2002 by a serial entrepreneur and a proprietor / chef  duo after 10 years in the making, Mr Goodburgers won PETA’s national “Golden Bun Award” for its veggie burger in 2003 and had lofty visions of worldwide franchising, but never got past one store. Apparently, its owners have gone back to running traditional restaurants.

More research produced more discouraging news:

-VG Burgers was featured on Trendwatching.com a year ago for its organic fast-food. Begun in Colorado in 2006, VG Burgers had aspirations to franchise nationally. However, the website still only lists the original store, and emails sent via their website inquiring about franchising were not returned.

According to Trendwatching, “As more consumers begin to grasp the environmental impact of eating meat and move towards a (semi) vegetarian diet, opportunities will no doubt expand for entrepreneurs who can serve up guilty pleasures that aren’t quite as guilty.”

It’s been 2 years since Trendwatching’s review, but there have been few discernible improvements in American eating habits. Many attribute this to a tough economy that makes people more concerned for saving money than eating well. Despite this, there are positive signs from the West Coast:

-Veggie Grill is a Los Angeles vegan eatery making headlines, having recently won a spot in LA’s Top 10 Restaurants by Los Angeles Magazine and other mainstream media. Opened in 2006, VeggieGrill now has 4 stores in southern California, and is looking at national franchising, too. I’m hoping Veggie Grill has more staying power than VG Burgers and Mr. Goodburgers.

It seems every time another vegan-friendly establishment fails, someone sighs and concludes it was just an idea ahead of its time. However, considering the declining health of the average Westerner, now is the time for diners of all stripes to support health-promoting vegan restaurants in your community.