I live in an area of Montreal, where the restaurant scene is quite active.
Restaurants come and go, and very few manage to stay in business for more than a year or two. Sometimes they close after just 6 to 8 months, which represents an incredible loss for the owners, who often are only regular folks with a dream, who put all of their life savings into it.
Rarely does a restaurant fail because of purely economic reasons. Usually, there’s something wrong with the approach, the location, the menu, or some other factor that could have been avoided.
Let me give you an example from my neighborhood. Last year, a Syrian restaurant offering fast-food style falafels, salads and other similar things opened near the largest farmer’s market in Montreal. The place seemed doomed from the start. The location was previously a grocery store for Italian specialty products. It was way too large for their needs, too dark, and they set it up bizarrely and awkwardly.
After a few months, it was clear that the restaurant was not going to thrive. Then, it seemed closed for a while, only to reopen a month or two later. I was surprised to discover that they had converted into a 100% vegan restaurant! The owners told me that they owned two health food stores in the past and were long-time vegetarians. So after their first restaurant attempt, they decided to do what they had wanted to do first.
So this new restaurant now offers the typical vegetarian sandwiches and plates you’d find before, but they changed the meat offerings into vegan proteins. For example, you can order a “shish kebab” sandwich made with a sort of fake meat.
They also have a large selection of salads and offer random vegetarian items, such as the Beyond Meat burger.
However, they didn’t address the main problem: the awkward disposition due to the large size that they don’t need. They’ve chosen instead to offer many vegetarian products that are dispersed throughout the store, in no particular order.
Besides the “doomed location” aspect that condemns them in the first place, there’s something that they’re doing wrong that they could change, which happens to be a common mistake with vegetarian restaurants, namely: their lack of nutrition knowledge. Even though they are long-term vegetarians, it’s clear that they have no notion of nutrition by judging how the menus are put together.
For example, if you order the “vegetarian plate” — the most expensive item on the menu, you’d expect to be satisfied with this choice. You get mixed salads, rice, and your choice of vegan protein. However, they fill the plate with salad leaves, add random items devoid of any significant quantities of carbohydrates (for example marinated raw veggies), a tiny portion of yellow rice, and the plant protein I talked about.
In the end, after spending more than you would at a typical restaurant, you leave feeling hungry. Why? Because they forgot to feed you healthy carbohydrates and beans.
Although fake meats can be filling, they cannot form the basis of a meal. Salads are also not a satisfactory basis for a meal. In the end, most of the calories come from fat and not enough come from healthy, whole carbohydrates.
The first rule of a vegan restaurant: your customer should not leave hungry.
There’s another restaurant in Montreal, called Les Vivres, which has been in business for over 20 years and is the first 100% vegan restaurant in this city. By comparison, Les Vivres has avoided all of the mistakes that the Syrian restaurant in my area has made. One of their most popular item, the Dragon Bowl, features whole grains as the basis, along with raw and steamed vegetables, tofu or tempeh and a sauce. But the difference is that the quantities are enough to feed you and the meal is balanced.
It’s something straightforward: if you want to succeed with a vegetarian restaurant, you should understand basic nutrition principles. Make meals that are tasty and sustaining and don’t support the notion that a vegan meal should leave you feeling hungry.
What about you… have you noticed what vegan/vegetarian restaurants do right and wrong? Share your comments below.