As of 2010, the population of Long Beach was somewhere in the 500,000 range, yet the city was home to only one vegan restaurant (Zephyr). While this animal-free diet ain't exactly sweeping the nation--or the town--by storm, that number still seemed small.
Luckily, however, about two weeks ago, that number doubled overnight when Long Beach Vegan Eatery (LBVE) opened its doors. Owned and operated by Jeff Terranova and chef Beckey Salg, the LBVE was so popular that after its first seven days of business, the restaurant had to shut down to order more food.
I visited toward the end of that first week, and Terranova told me that approximately 25 percent of the menu was unavailable that day. If it were any other dining experience, I would have questioned why a restaurant was out of so many options, but as a vegan who wants to see such joints do well, I was actually encouraged by Terranova's news because it meant people were supporting Long Beach's latest animal-friendly eatery. That's not half-bad for a new business that didn't have a grand opening.
I could go on for days about the place, but I erred on the side of caution and decided to let Terranova speak for himself.
Why did you choose Long Beach to open a restaurant?
Jeff Terranova: We absolutely love the diversity and overall sense of community here in Long Beach. We feel that not only does Long Beach need what LBVE has to offer, but we also need Long Beach. We'd love for the Long Beach Vegan Eatery to be to Long Beach as Cheers is to Boston.
Considering the economy, from a business perspective, is now a good time to open any kind of restaurant, let alone a vegan one?
People need to eat, and most people love to eat. LBVE offers a chef who is sugar-sensitive and can easily prepare meals for people with special needs if given advance notice. Just today, we had a customer place an order for six sugar-free chocolate cupcakes with peanut butter frosting to surprise her sugar-sensitive partner with this weekend. We are going to be supplying vegan macaroni and cheese and cupcakes for a vegan kid's birthday party in December. The economy is terrible, but we are not worried. I also feel the universe has a natural balance that gives you back what you put into it.
What's your background with food? Do you cook? Or are you just a fan?
I am a hardcore/punk musician, graphic artist and photographer who loves vegan/vegetarian food and the concept of what turned out to be LBVE. Beckey is five years post-bypass and has spent the majority of her time perfecting vegan versions of all of the comfort foods she loved prior to becoming a strict vegetarian two years ago.
Tell me about having to close on Monday. That was due to an abundance of customers during your first week, right? If so, that's not bad for a restaurant that didn't have a grand opening.
We had such a huge turnout our first seven days of being open that we had no choice but to shut down on the eighth day, regroup and replenish the menu. We opened up on day nine with 95 percent of the menu ready to go and have managed to maintain that percentage throughout the second week. The outpouring of love and support has been tremendous so far, and we are excited to be making history here in the city of Long Beach.
So far, what have been the best sellers? What sorts of overall feedback are you getting?
There have been so many: the Chick'n Parm, LBV Beefless & Cheese, Burritos, Meatless Meatloaf, Stuffed Shells, Meatless Meatball sandwich, and, of course, all of the deserts. The feedback has either been "love it" or "hate it." Most people get what we are doing, but some do not.
Since you've been open, what have you learned about running a restaurant?
I've learned that everyone is a critic, and everyone seems to think they can do everything better than everyone else who's already doing it. I've also learned that apparently no matter how much food we order from our distributors, we keep selling out of everything.
Why is veganism important to you?
I have been a strict vegetarian for 24 years, and I wanted to do the restaurant 100 percent vegan to insure there would never be an issue with cross-contamination. Veganism/vegetarianism is important to me for health reasons, for ecological reasons and for animal-cruelty reasons. If I had to go out and kill my own food, I could not do it, so how can I justify paying someone else to do the dirty work for me? I like to look in the mirror at the end of the day and know that I lived my day without causing suffering and pain to any other sentient beings.
Do you get upset when cooks/chefs/etc. look down on veganism like it can't be real food?
Not at all. I learned a long time ago, especially being involved in the underground-hardcore/punk music scene and also being a vegetarian in the 1980s, either you get it or you don't, and if you don't, there is no reason to waste your time dedicating your precious energy trying to explain yourself to someone.
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Unlike other vegan places, you don't seem to be going the route of salads/grains/raw/etc. Instead, you've got what I'd call comfort food--barbecue, burgers, hot dogs, mac and cheese. Tell me about why you decided to cater your menu this way.
We are like a vegan diner, fast-food-style, counter service and bus your own tables. Long Beach Vegan Diner didn't really fly for the name. Would you want to eat at LBVD? I think not. LBVE fit us. We love Long Beach and are proud to offer up 100-percent vegan meals to the masses. We wanted to try something a little different, and we are bringing it to the mainstream. Like it or not, here we come.
When I die, can you make sure to put a whoopie pie in my casket? I'd appreciate that.
That is definitely the ultimate compliment, though let's hope you outlive LBVE and the whoopie pie.
Long Beach Vegan Eatery, 2246 N. Lakewood Blvd., Long Beach, (562) 986-5283; www.LBVeganEatery.com.