As veganism becomes “demystified,” more people are adopting a plant-based diet
More than two decades ago, when Ian Brandt opened his first vegan restaurant, he faced the usual challenges of attracting customers to a new eatery. On top of that, only a tiny percentage of those potential customers were vegans.
“When you eliminate 98 percent of consumers that are eating at restaurants, you’re already up against the odds. The first five years were an endless struggle,” says Brandt, who has been a vegan for 24 years.
Vertical Diner has its roots in The Greens Vegetarian Food Cart, which was started by Brandt and his then-wife Kelsey Brandt in 1998 at the Downtown Farmers Market. In 1999, their all-vegan Sage’s Café opened, offering organic and locally sourced ingredients.
Vertical Diner – named for the vertically enhanced landscape of the Rocky Mountains – opened in a separate Salt Lake City location in 2007. Also in 2007, Cali’s Natural Foods was launched to produce the foods served at the restaurants. The business manufactures organic and natural foods for other restaurants as well.
The two restaurants merged in 2018, and Sage’s closed that year. Vertical Diner moved in 2019 to its present location at 234 W 900 S. It includes the Jade Room, a private dining area that pays homage to the previous Chinese restaurant located at the site. The diner is all-vegan, which means the food is plant-based and does not include any meat, seafood, dairy or eggs. Brandt is showing the dining public that vegan food is just as tasty and healthier than a more traditional diet. But convincing customers hasn’t always been easy.
“In 1999, vegetarianism was common, but not veganism,” Brandt said. “It was more on the fringe. People weren’t necessarily adapting to eating vegan. If they were eating vegetarian, their palate also would be oriented around dairy products as a heavy part of the meal.”
But veganism became “demystified” and customers started to come around. Common reasons people become vegans are concern about their health and well-being, animal rights and the impact that raising animals for food has on the environment. “People were starting to identify that if you’re going to be vegetarian, that you might as well take the next step and exclude all animal products,” he said.
The restaurant closed its dine-in service for two weeks early on in the pandemic, but survived those challenges and continues to be successful. It has even spawned a twin. Brandt now lives in Eugene, Oregon, and started Vertical Diner Portland in 2019.
Customers give Vertical Diner a big thumbs-up. The menu includes appetizers, salads, burgers, sandwiches, breakfast foods, pizza, tacos, and desserts.
Brett Fox, a “flexitarian” who occasionally enjoys a meat pizza, likes the variety. “You can get any kind of food here,” said Fox, who favors the biscuits and gravy.
Angelina Miller is not vegan, but eats at Vertical Diner often and calls the brownies “amazing.” Her friend Sylvia Smith, who is a vegetarian for environmental reasons, is allergic to dairy and likes that she can eat anything on the menu. Mara Lemesany tries not to eat a lot of meat. The reason she is a fan? “Sometimes it’s nice to have that comfort food.” U
The Vertical Diner is at 234 West 900 South in Salt Lake City.
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