Ten Questions With Long Beach Vegan Eatery's Jeff Terranova

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?

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.

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.

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