Eating vegan — or at least trying out a part-time vegan diet — has officially gone mainstream. Thanks to a new generation of health- and environmentally-conscious celebrities that include everyone from actress Kate Mara to pop star Ariana Grande and even rapper Wacka Flocka, more consumers are embracing the benefits that come along with plant-based eating.
According to U.S. News and World Report, a diet heavy in fruits and veggies may help ward off chronic diseases like diabetes and hypertension. And with new studies showing that processed meats like ham, salami and sausage may cause certain types of cancers, it’s no wonder plant-based diets are on the rise, especially among millennials.
In fact, 16 million people in the U.S. already identify as vegan or vegetarian, and the number of those interested in plant-based eating for health and ethical reasons is growing. Foodable Labs data also shows 11.2 Million plant based or vegan menu mentions on social within the last three months and an average food sentiment on vegan menus of 81.24 out of 100.
“Thirty-six percent of consumers are looking for dietary changes that help them consume less meat—or none of it, depending on the point of view,” Eric Pierce, Director of Strategy & Insights for NEXT Trend, told Vegan News. “What I see there is major opportunity, and in some ways an underdeveloped market, possibly.”
In an effort to tap into new customer segments (while also reducing their carbon footprint) plenty of restaurants are ditching the meat in favor of robust plant-based menu options. Spoiler alert: it’s working quite well.
New York’s , Peacefood Cafe for instance, has been catering to plant-loving patrons since it first opened its doors back in 2010. A self-proclaimed “vegan kitchen and bakery,” Peacefood prides itself in “spreading awareness of non-violence through feeding people with delicious vegan food.” And this philosophy seems to be working for them, with celebrities like Kevin Spacey and Alan Cumming among the cafe’s clientele.
Peacefood's Roasted Japanese Pumpkin Sandwich is a crowd favorite, even making the list of “Best Vegan Sandwiches in NYC.” One writer described it tasting, “as amazing as it sounds” with mashed and seasoned roasted Japanese pumpkin topped with caramelized onions, ground walnuts, cashew cheese and greens, served on toasted whole spelt rye bread.
Other menu options include a Fluffy Quinoa Salad, Pan-Seared French Horn Mushrooms served on Focaccia bread, and Baked Soy Nuggets served with fresh herb vegan mayo. There’s also a sweet selection of vegan cookies, brownies and macaroons.
With a name like The Butcher’s Daughter, you’d think a vegetarian restaurant might have trouble attracting the right customer base. But we’d say this popular spot (with locations in New York and L.A.) lets the food speak for itself. Yelp reviewers have hailed the fare at The Butcher’s Daughter, “insanely good” and “a lot healthier without tasting healthier.” The food here is so popular, in fact, celebrities like Diane Kruger have even taken notice.
With a menu that includes everything from Avocado Toast to Acai Bowls, as well as a wide selection of raw smoothies, The Butcher’s Daughter operates on one simple philosophy: to treat fruits and vegetables as a butcher would meat. “We chop, fillet and carve fresh produce into healthy vegetarian dishes and press them into pretty juices,” the restaurant explains on its website.
Embracing the plant-based trend doesn’t necessarily mean sticking to a purely plant centric menu. Dig Inn (with locations in New York and Boston) is all about “serving food that embraces the seasons. ” With a major focus on local farming and sustainability, this restaurant chain offers a wide selection of vegan and vegetarian dishes, as well as plenty of animal-protein options to keep the meat eaters happy, too. The 5-Spice Meatballs are a hit with Yelp reviewers, as are the brussels sprouts, and farro with butternut squash.
Business is definitely booming for Dig Inn as the brand recently announced it will be opening five to six new locations by early 2017, including two more in Boston.
You don’t have to be in the Northeast to leverage the plant-based culinary trend either. Green Bar & Kitchen, located in Fort Lauderdale, FL, is scoring major points among customers with a menu built around “vibrant, plant-based, wholesome eating.”
Opened since January 2016, this 1,000-sq.-ft. space offers an easy way to get healthy food on the go. The model proved to be a success because just one month after opening its doors, owner Elena Mezzo announced the launch of an express location with a tasting menu where customers get to decide what stays and what goes.
"We want to show our customers how versatile veggies can be," Pezzo told Miami New Times. "As new items are tested at Green Bar Express, we will lean heavily on our customers to decide if these meals will be added to the menu at Green Bar on 17th Street (the flagship location).”
Scoring big with customers so far? The GBK Deluxe Burger — made with brown rice, quinoa, chickpea, and roasted vegetables. This tasty dish lets vegans indulge in the ultimate comfort food — complete with a side of French fries — without any of the guilt. Green Bar & Kitchen also has a wide selection of tasty tacos and bowls, plus a kids menu for those tiny plant-lovers.
Specializing in vegetarian and vegan comfort food, Chicago’s Handlebar has been serving up delicious made-from-scratch fare since 2003. Menu items like vegetarian Sloppy Joe’s, Fried Pickles and Fried Avocado tacos might not be the lowest in calories, but it’s all organic, locally sourced, and just plain tasty.
“Based on Handlebar’s menu, atmosphere and service, the most all-encompassing adjective for this restaurant is authentic,” one food editor wrote in the Loyola Phoenix. “Handlebar has taken traditional American cuisine and transformed it into something unique while maintaining appeal to even the least adventurous of meat-eaters.”
Over in Seattle, The Sunlight Cafe is a veteran in the space of plant-based cuisine and still going strong. Opened in 1976, it’s the longest standing vegan restaurant in the city. "There were just two small vegetarian restaurants in Seattle when we opened,” recalls cafe owner Margaret Noone. “Things have changed so much since then. Vegan places have popped up and upscale places have come along, like Café Flora and Carmelita. The competition has really stiffened.” Still, No one believes the Sunlight Cafe is different from the modern vegan eateries in the area. “We feel we occupy a special niche—we’re an everyday, casual family place where people can eat and spend time reading or using the free Wi-Fi.”