How to choose the right location for your vegan or vegetarian restaurant (and a few other tips)

Please note: This article was first published on The Vegan Tourist and last updated July 27, 2019.

In August 2017, I published Survival Tips for Small Vegetarian and Vegan Restaurants. I’d like to follow up today by giving you a few tips on how to choose the right location for your restaurant, and how to interpret the information provided in real estate listings. I am using a vegan restaurant as an example, which opened in Vienna, Austria, in July 2017, and closed two years later, in June or July 2019 (I’m not sure about the exact date). I won’t tell you the name of the restaurant, as it is not my intention to trash entrepreneurs who took a chance on starting a vegan business, and failed. I am telling you this restaurant’s story so you can learn from it, and avoid similar mistakes.

When the restaurant first opened in July 2017, I took notice, but didn’t immediately go and eat there. On its website and on Facebook, the restaurant presented itself as a high-class casual dining restaurant. The way it presented itself invoked images of tablecloths and cloth napkins in my mind, and I am a jeans-and-T-shirt kind of girl. I put off visiting this restaurant time and again.

In June 2018, the restaurant declared bankruptcy. Once a company declares bankruptcy in Austria, information is published in certain newspapers and magazines, and I read those listings carefully. As soon as I read the announcement about the bankruptcy filing, I dropped everything and drove across town, so I could eat at least one meal there. As I publish a vegan restaurant guide, I try to eat at each restaurant at least twice…even if it’s about to close.

Imagine my surprise, when I finally stood in front of this restaurant, and it was a small self-service burger joint. There was nothing fancy about it. During the previous year, I had walked past it several times, and hadn’t even noticed it was there. It was located at the corner of a passageway, had little signage to draw (potential) customers’ attention to it, and the take-out window was tiny, and usually closed.

These are my first two tips: make sure that your logos and signs draw attention to your restaurant, so people don’t walk past it without noticing it. And for heaven’s sake, don’t promote your restaurant as something it’s not. If it’s a self-service burger joint, promote it as such. You need to promote fancy restaurants and burger joints (or self-service restaurants and restaurants with table service) to two completely different target groups!

On its Facebook page and on its website, the restaurant promoted the freshness of its produce. I once witnessed one of its employees tearing open a plastic bag with pre-cut salad. That’s not how I define “freshness.” Again – don’t try to present your restaurant as something it’s not. Customers will take notice, if you are not 100% honest, and they will either tear into you on social media, or simply not frequent your business. In this case, people stayed away.

When the restaurant filed for bankruptcy for the first time, one of the general managers started a new company and continued to run it under the same name. The restaurant’s customers never noticed – you could only tell that a different company owned the restaurant by looking at the receipts. The business concept wasn’t changed, and the restaurant never closed after the first company filed for bankruptcy. The first company paid its debtors 3.12% of what they owed them, and the bankruptcy court finally closed this case in July 2019.

The second company filed for bankruptcy after another year, in June 2019. This time the restaurant closed for good, sometime in late June or early July 2019, I’m not sure about the exact date. The restaurant is now being offered to potential buyers, and this is where it gets really interesting.

If you want to take over this particular restaurant space, you need to pay 195.000 Euros (apparently to buy it, not just to lease the space). At this location, a restaurant failed twice within the course of two years. It has only a few tables, and provides seating for approximately 15 people. How long would it take you to recoup an investment of 195.000 Euros? How many burgers (vegan or otherwise) would you need to sell in order to recoup such a large sum of money? How many burgers (or other food items) could you possibly sell, if there’s only room for 15 customers to sit and eat their meals? I haven’t even mentioned all the other costs you would need to consider (operating costs, staff, insurance, costs for food and drink, etc.). Never, ever pay such a large sum of money for a small restaurant. You will never be able to make a profit. Hands off!

And by the way, make sure that the information contained in the real estate listing is true: this particular space is being described as a restaurant with seating for 35 customers, but it only had four tables with seating for approximately 15 people.

The restaurant is very hot in the summer (the windows can’t be opened – this is something you need to check) and hot and loud in the winter (due to the noise from the heating system – check that out, too, before you make a buying decision; turn on the heating, even in summer). There’s heavy traffic on the street outside, one of the major roads leading into the city center, opening windows or the restaurant’s door wouldn’t really be an option anyway (check that, too!). There’s no outdoor seating space.

If you consider opening a restaurant at a location where another restaurant closed down, do your research: find out who previously owned it; don’t just research the restaurant’s name, you need to find out the name of the company which owned this business. And then type the name of the restaurant, the owner’s name, and words “bankruptcy” or “insolvency” into your search engine – Google will usually get you first results. But don’t stop there: in most countries, bankruptcy information is published in an official government journal or on a website by the relevant authorities. You absolutely must find out why the previous owners closed their restaurant. Unless a very old restaurateur retired, chances are the business filed for bankruptcy. Consider this relevant information, and proceed very carefully!

So why did this particular business fail? On paper, the location sounds appealing. It’s located at one end of Naschmarkt, one of Vienna’s oldest farmer’s markets, which has been in existence since 1786, and since 1916 in its present form, designed by famed architect Otto Wagner. Naschmarkt is a major tourist attraction, and the Viennese shop there as well. The restaurant is located right across the street from this market. But of course, there are many restaurants located directly at this farmer’s market – dozens, in fact. And there are many more restaurants located in the vicinity.

There’s a very popular vegan fast food restaurant – selling burgers and fries, and very similar food at cheaper prices than the restaurant which failed – located on the very same block as the restaurant which went bankrupt; however, its entrance is from another street. That other, much larger restaurant (with an outdoor seating area in a street with less traffic), Swing Kitchen, is doing very well, by the way, at this location. Swing Kitchen opened its first restaurant in 2015, and today there are five Swing Kitchen restaurants all over Vienna.

Why would you open a vegan burger joint in the immediate vicinity of a very similar vegan restaurant, which is already established at this location, has an outdoor seating area (the failed restaurant doesn’t), which has bigger vegan burgers at cheaper prices? I’m scratching my head here, because I honestly don’t understand how anyone would completely ignore the already existing competition before opening a restaurant. Before you open a restaurant (or any other business), you need to research your competition.

The real estate ad praises the restaurant’s many loyal and repeat customers (now, why did it go bankrupt again…twice?). It also claims that it is highly rated on social media – the restaurant has already deleted its Facebook page, and it doesn’t have a website. (The website was deleted after the first company filed for bankruptcy.) The real estate listing also mentions that it is very well known and an established brand (established as a twice-bankrupt brand?). The ad claims that its take-away business and delivery business make up a high percentage of its revenue. If your revenue is low, that means nothing, sorry! The real estate listing makes this restaurant space sound like a great opportunity. Do you think it actually is a great opportunity?

One other thing that irritates me in this particular case is that the general manager, who was involved in two bankruptcies of this restaurant, also runs a property management firm. He’s the one offering this space to a potential new owner. In Austria, all real estate listings must provide information about a building’s energy efficiency. This particular ad mentions that information about energy efficiency cannot be provided for this restaurant, as the real estate company has advised the owner that this is a legal requirement, but the owner hasn’t provided them with this information. Funny, don’t you think, as the restaurant’s general manager is also the real estate agent?

Don’t ever believe anything that’s mention in a real estate ad or what a real estate agent tells you – verify everything!  You need to personally and independently check each and every claim that is made in a real estate ad, if you want to take over a space where another business closed down. Find out everything you can about the previous owner, the business previously established at the location, and the reason why a business closed down – or you’ll end up filing for bankruptcy yourself.

Posted in Austria, Restaurants, Vegan - Various, Vienna, Writing & Publishing | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Survival Tips for Small Vegetarian and Vegan Restaurants

Please note: This article was first published on The Vegan Tourist and last updated August 13,2017. Inactive links were removed on November 29, 2021.

When I published The Vegan Tourist: Vienna and the book’s German-language version The Vegan Tourist: Wien, I decided to provide updates about restaurant closings and new openings on my website. I spent a couple of hours yesterday updating relevant information, which you can access here. Since I published the first edition of the guide book in November 2014, more than a dozen vegetarian restaurants have closed. Most of these restaurants were small businesses, and many of them stayed in business only for a brief time, usually between six months and two years. Over the course of the last three years I have become very good at predicting the success rate of new restaurants. If you think about opening a small vegetarian or vegan restaurant, here’s some advice:

DO THE MATH:

I often walked into a small, newly opened restaurant and knew immediately that it was doomed to fail. The restaurateurs simply didn’t do the math. Eight vegetarian restaurants which ceased to do business in Vienna during the last three years were very small; so tiny, in fact, that there was room for just a few tables and chairs. Only ten people (or less) would be able to eat at these restaurants at any given time. How many meals do you need to sell to cover your fixed and variable costs before you make any profit? And if you can only seat 10 people at a time, would it even be possible to ever cover your costs? The obvious answer is “no.”

Seven of those eight restaurants, which all closed after doing business for only a brief time, tried to operate as “traditional” restaurants. They focused on offering sit-down meals. They did offer take-out containers for their soups, salads, and entrees, but they didn’t have sandwiches or other similar food items on the menu, which you could eat on the go and without the need for cutlery.

Only one of those eight small businesses – a vegan sushi place – focused on take-out and even offered delivery for customers who lived in the neighborhood. If your restaurant is so small that you cannot possibly cover your costs from eat-in customers, you need to focus on take-out, run a catering business on the side, offer cooking classes, offer a delivering service for your meals, and sell non-perishable specialty food items through a website. In addition, you need to do a lot of marketing, so people will know that you offer all these services. If you do all that, and more, you might be able to avoid bankruptcy.

You also need to offer competitive prices. The small vegan sushi take-out restaurant, which closed after approximately two years, offered hand-made vegan sushi prepared with unusual and exotic ingredients; I liked the food, but only stopped by twice – it was simply too expensive. The sushi restaurant could not compete with a nearby vegetarian Asian restaurant, where I always ended up eating. When the vegan sushi take-away opened in January 2015, it sold 6 pieces of Maki and 6 pieces of Urumaki for 9.90 Euros – at the same time, the Asian vegetarian (mostly vegan) restaurant located in the same neighborhood offered its all-you-can-eat weekday lunchtime buffet for 8.90 Euros (which included 3 kinds of vegan Maki).

The vegan sushi take-away could not compete on price, because it was too small. It needed to charge higher prices per item to cover its costs; but customers don’t care about that – if they can get more (a bigger variety of dishes, bigger portions) at cheaper prices somewhere else, they will not eat at your restaurant. Bigger restaurants can offer cheaper prices because they are able to service more customers and divide their fixed costs between more meals. It’s called economies of scale. Do the math – research and calculate all costs before you open a restaurant, and allocate them. How much do you need to charge for a meal to make a profit? How many meals do you need to sell before you can lower your prices? And what are nearby larger restaurants charging for a comparable meal? Can you compete, if you only own a tiny restaurant? What makes your restaurant so special that customers would be willing to pay higher prices? Don’t overestimate yourself (or your food) – price matters.

When you calculate your costs, you don’t just have to consider fixed and variable costs, you also need to consider start-up costs – you need to recoup those as well. The girlfriend of an acquaintance of mine opened a (non-vegetarian) Thai restaurant in a location with plenty of foot traffic; but it was small. The restaurant could only seat about a dozen guests at any one time. She paid 80.000 Euros to buy the kitchen appliances and furniture from the previous owner. When I heard that number, I immediately knew she was doomed; the restaurant closed about six months later. How many meals do you have to sell to recoup 80.000 Euros (or dollars) in start-up costs?

With cost accounting, you tally up all your costs and then divide them between all the items you sell. It sounds simple, but you must consider all your costs. Variable costs are easily allocated, but it’s amazing how often fixed costs are either not allocated correctly or not allocated at all. Do you love math? Bookkeeping? Doing your taxes? If not, you probably shouldn’t go into business for yourself. Yes, you can hire bookkeepers and tax accountants – but you need to be able to understand what they are doing; you need to be able to check their work. You are responsible for everything when you run your own business. And you need to do cost accounting long before you open your business.

In addition to doing the math, you must also:

CHOOSE THE RIGHT LOCATION:

Quite a few of these small restaurants which closed after just a few months chose a bad location; rents are cheaper in bad locations, but location makes an enormous difference to your success. The restaurants were in streets with little (or at least not enough) foot traffic. One restaurant was located right next to a train station – but it was located at the side of the train station, where very few people passed on foot. Most people just cut across the small piazza in front of the train station, and there were shops and restaurants inside the station and right in front of it. Fifty meters or so made all the difference in the world. The restaurant also only had three or four small tables and a very short menu – it really had no chance; I knew right away that the owners – a mother and daughter team – would not be able to operate it successfully, and it closed after only a few months.

Two small vegetarian restaurants (very limited menu, seating only for a few customers), were located right off one of Vienna’s busiest shopping street; but there are so many restaurants on this shopping street, customers are spoilt for choice. Most people will not consider a detour; they’ll eat anywhere. Most people also aren’t vegetarians – why should they chose a vegetarian restaurant in the first place? Why should they take a few extra steps, only so they can eat at a very small vegetarian restaurant (so small that everyone can listen to everyone else’s conversation – which is a huge turn-off for me and the main reason why I don’t like tiny restaurants)? And why should they choose a restaurant which only offers a few dishes? Customers like choice, myself included. Vegans and vegetarians will occasionally frequent your tiny vegetarian restaurant, but you also need lots of foot traffic and many non-vegetarian customers to survive financially. Non-vegetarian customers have no reason to choose your restaurant (located in a side street) over another one which is located right on a major shopping street, has a large menu, plenty of tables and chairs for patrons and enough space between those tables so they can conduct their conversations in private.

TABLES AND CHAIRS:

Most of the restaurants which closed after just a few months did not have proper tables and chairs for their patrons. They offered counter seating and high tables with bar stools, or benches without back support paired with coffee tables (you had to bend forward to eat). These kind of seating options are often installed with purpose in restaurants – they are meant to prevent patrons from getting too comfortable and spending too much time in the restaurants. A higher turnover of customers means more business; but uncomfortable seating also means that customers are less likely to return for future visits. If you don’t have proper chairs and tables at your restaurant, older people will avoid it, as will people with physical disabilities. No one would ever dream of meeting up with friends for lunch or dinner at a restaurant which doesn’t have comfortable seating. Even vegans like myself, who want to support small vegan businesses, won’t enjoy themselves at your restaurant. Most people work hard, and they want to relax and recharge their batteries during their lunch break or after work. Bar stools are uncomfortable – when I go to a restaurant, I don’t want to perch on a bar stool; I want back support, and I don’t want to eat my food hunched over a coffee table. You’ll get me in and out of your restaurant quickly once – but I won’t come back a second time.

CONSIDER THE MENU:

Most of the small vegetarian restaurants which closed after just a few months offered lunch specials. They would usually prepare one kind of soup, one or two different entrees, and one dessert. Such lunch specials are actually very popular in Vienna – about a dozen organic grocery stores and health food stores successfully own and operate small in-house vegetarian bistros where they offer a very limited selection of dishes during lunch hours. But these businesses make most of their profit from their stores – not from their bistros. Most of the small vegetarian restaurants which went bust within a few months of their opening tried to replicate the bistros’ business model, and offered a limited selection of lunch specials. But the small stand-alone restaurants didn’t have any additional income to fall back on – and they weren’t able to survive financially. They chose a business model which didn’t work for their circumstances.

At the tiny restaurants, the entrees would often consist of vegetable stews, served with a side order of rice or some other grain, and maybe a small side salad. Vegetable stews are one-pot meals, they are easy to prepare. They also usually contain legumes – important sources of protein for vegans. Legumes are cheap ingredients, which is another reason why they are so popular at vegan restaurants. Vegetable stews can be prepared in advance, and be kept warm for several hours. Someone who owns a tiny restaurant – where owners often cook themselves – can prepare a vegetable stew in the morning, and serve it to customers all day. That’s why vegetable stews are always found on the menu at small vegetarian restaurants. As a vegan customer, I am sick and tired of them. I can easily prepare a vegetable stew at home, thank you very much. When I eat at a restaurant, I want dishes that I can’t or don’t want to prepare for myself. I want something special. If you own a tiny vegetarian restaurant, and you frequently offer variations of vegetable stews, you will lose even hard-core vegans like myself as customers. You need to make more of an effort; don’t put dishes on the menu just because you can prepare them quickly, cheaply and yourself (even though you are not a professional chef). That simply won’t cut it. If you want my money, you need to offer me something special.

A FEW FINAL WORDS:

Many restaurants go bust within the first year. Don’t sign a multi-year lease, or insist on a clause that lets you break the lease by paying a small fee. Make sure you have enough savings to support yourself for a couple of years. Think long and hard before you open your small vegetarian or vegan restaurant (or any restaurant, for that matter), so you won’t lose your life’s savings on a dream. Do the math, consider the competition, choose the right location, make sure your patrons feel comfortable at your restaurant, hire a professional chef, and pay attention to detail. Good luck!

Posted in Austria, Restaurants, Vegan - Various, Vegetarian Restaurants (AT - Vienna), Vegetarian Restaurants (Austria), Vienna, Writing & Publishing | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Chronic Illness and a Vegan Diet

Please note: This article was first published on The Vegan Tourist and last updated April 28, 2017.

Ingrid Haunold
Photo credit: www.fotoschuster.at

In 2004, I was diagnosed with Sarcoidosis, an inflammatory disease, which affects the lungs and lymph nodes, and often other organs. From 2005 to 2013, I had to take glucocorticoids (cortisone medication/steroid hormones). That’s eight years of steroids, which are a nasty drug. Steroid medication has countless serious side effects, the least of which is a massive weight gain. Steroids draw calcium from the bones, they also can (and did) cause severe depression. The drugs impact the function of the adrenal glands, which leads to insomnia. I slept no more than three hours a night for eight years, and I was unable to work for several years as a result. The drugs weaken the immune system, making patients more susceptible to infections. (The actor Bernie Mac died from complications of Sarcoidosis, related to a weakened immune system; other famous people, who reportedly died of Sarc-related causes, are gospel singer Mahalia Jackson, football player Reggie White, or the actor Michael Clark Duncan).

I tried for years to get off those drugs, but whenever I reduced the dosage, the Sarcoidosis flared up again. In 2011, I decided to switch to a vegan diet, after living as a vegetarian for 29 years (since 1982). At around the same time I became a vegan, I decided once again to try and reduce the dosage of my steroid medication. You can’t just stop taking steroids from one day to the next, you need to reduce the dosage very slowly, which I did. And this time it worked – over the course of two years, I managed to taper off the drugs, and stopped taking them completely in 2013.  The Sarcoidosis did not flare up again, and I have not had to go back on steroids.

Only later did I make the connection between my health and my decision to go vegan. I’d tried to taper off the steroid medication twice before, and failed miserably both times. The Sarcoidosis always flared up again, and I had to increase the dosage of the medication as a result. Only when I switched to a vegan diet, did I managed to taper off the drugs successfully. I went vegan for ethical reasons, and it took me quite by surprise that a vegan diet – as opposed to a vegetarian diet – made such a huge difference to my health.

I was diagnosed with a second chronic illness a couple of years ago – Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis – and I have not yet figured out how to make do without medication for this illness. Any tips and suggestions would be very welcome.

Posted in Various Personal Stuff, Vegan - Various | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

A Vegan Vacation in Fažana, Croatia

Please note: This article was first published on The Vegan Tourist and last updated July 27, 2019.

© Ingrid Haunold

Last September (2017), I vacationed in Fažana, Croatia, with a friend and my two dogs. It was my first vacation since I adopted Daisy in October 2013 (and a second dog, Teddy, a few months later). My friend had been to Fažana before, and she didn’t mind traveling with two dogs, one of which suffers from travel sickness and threw up in her car several times.

We rented a mobile home at Kamp Pineta, a large campground located at the Southwestern coast of the Istrian Peninsula, a few miles north of the ancient city of Pula.

© Ingrid Haunold

We rented a two-bedroom & two-bathroom premium mobile home with a wooden deck, situated in the Camp’s pine forest with direct views of the Mediterranean Sea.

As we vacationed in late September, during the last week of the season, the surrounding campground was mostly deserted, and I could let my dogs off their leashes. We took long walks along the beach and strolled through the huge campground.

© Ingrid Haunold

On the first day, Daisy immediately proceeded to steal a piece of meat from a couple of German tourists who were enjoying their dinners outside their tent, which was pitched close to our mobile home. She stole it right from their plates! Luckily, they were cool about it, but you do need to mind your dogs. On campgrounds, people cook and eat outside, and if your dogs are anything like mine, you need to watch them constantly.

We had travelled to Fažana by car from Vienna, Austria, and I brought organic (non-vegan) dog food with me from home, as well as organic rice milk, organic smoked tofu, and organic canned beans in tomato sauce. It’s a good think I did, as the town’s small supermarket doesn’t stock a lot of groceries for vegans. You can buy fresh fruit and vegetables (mostly non-organic), but you’ll find it considerably more difficult to find any products with vegan protein. There’s a small grocery store at Kamp Pineta, and you can buy non-organic canned beans there, but not much else in terms of vegan protein (organic or otherwise). You also won’t find vegan dog food or organic dog food (with meat) at any store in Fažana, so bring it with you, if you can. Veganism is still very much an alien concept in Croatia, as is organic farming. They’ve got some catching up to do!

© Ingrid Haunold

We cooked dinner several times in the small kitchen of our mobile home, and ate pasta with beans and smoked tofu on the deck, watching the sun set over the Mediterranean Sea. It was lovely.

We did venture into Fažana several times to eat dinner. A path runs straight through the campground along the water into town, it’s a leisurely 15-minute walk. Fažana is tiny, most restaurants are situated right by the sea at the harbor.

© Ingrid Haunold

We ate dinner twice at “Korta,” which – like all restaurants in Fažana –  specializes in seafood dishes; but they also serve pizza and were happy to prepare mine without cheese. So that’s what I ate, twice:  a mixed salad, and a cheese-less pizza topped with various vegetables.

Another time we ate dinner at “Batana,” another seafood restaurant at the Fažana harbor. The vegan options at this restaurant were limited to Ajvar (a paste made from red bell peppers, garlic, aubergine, and chili peppers), pickles, marinated olives, grilled vegetables, French Fries, and various salads (e. g. cucumber, tomato, mixed). I ordered Ajvar, grilled vegetables, and French Fries. I liked the food, but it was an odd assortment of dishes for dinner.

For vegans, the choices are limited; your dinners will consist of carbs & vitamins, but you won’t get much protein. Keep that in mind when you travel to Croatia.

Posted in Croatia, Hotels, Hostel, B&B, etc., Restaurants, Vegan - Various | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

And Teddy Makes Three…

Please note: This article was first published on The Vegan Tourist and last updated August 28, 2014.

A year ago, I adopted a puppy from Paws Paleohora in Crete, who’s now one year old and still wants nothing more than to play all day.

© Ingrid Haunold

Daisy gets to play with other dogs in the dog park every day, but clearly that’s not enough! So I decided to adopt another puppy from Paws Paleohora. This organisation does great work rescuing abandoned and stray dogs on the Greek island of Crete.

Daisy needed a friend to play with at home!

© Ingrid Haunold

On August 25, 2014, Daisy and I waited patiently for the arrival of our new puppy.

© Ingrid Haunold

6:30 PM: Phoebe – who I’ve renamed Teddy, because she reminds me of a Teddy Bear – arrives in Vienna, thirsty and hungry after a long flight.

According to the vet, she’s a “mixed breed.” Not sure which kinds, but I don’t care. She’s lovely and very shy in the beginning.

Getting to know each other…

© Ingrid Haunold

Bedtime…still keeping the distance.

© Ingrid Haunold

3:30 AM: Let’s Play!

© Ingrid Haunold
© Ingrid Haunold

6:00 AM: First walk on a leash. Daisy leads the way, and Teddy faithfully follows her.

They do like to eat, and pee and poop ( a lot), and they also sleep quite a bit. But mostly they just play…

© Ingrid Haunold

…and play…

© Ingrid Haunold

…and play…

© Ingrid Haunold

…and play…

Posted in Various Personal Stuff | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Stop and Smell the Flowers

Please note: This article was first published on The Vegan Tourist and last updated December 15, 2013.

Flowers! I love flowers! So pretty, and they smell so nice!

© Ingrid Haunold

Let’s take a closer look…

© Ingrid Haunold

What do you mean, I’m not supposed to play in the flowerbed?

© Ingrid Haunold

Oh… —

© Ingrid Haunold

But this is so much fun!

I want to play with the flowers !

© Ingrid Haunold

Game over.

© Ingrid Haunold

Posted in Various Personal Stuff | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Beware of Anonymous Vegan Bloggers: VegKitchen

Please note: This article was first published on The Vegan Tourist and last updated September 2, 2018.

A few days ago, I updated my blogroll, and mentioned that I don’t like it when bloggers keep their identity secret. I joked that Rika & Doni of Vegan Miam might not be be real people, and that their blog might be “run by a corporation (trying to influence consumers with fake personalities).”

Today, I’d like to elaborate on that point. I spent some more time surfing the net for vegan blogs, and came across the following website: VegKitchen. The blog’s subtitle reads “Leading a Vegan Life.”

Whenever I check out a new blog (vegan or otherwise), I read the “About” page. I want to know who publishes a blog or website. We live in an age where corporations and politicians constantly try to influence our opinions and our consumer behavior and monetize our data, so I always make sure I know who I am dealing with.

On VegKitchen, there’s no “About”-page. This immediately makes me suspicious. So I scroll down to the bottom of the page, where I find the following information: “Vegetarian Recipes from “Oh My Veggies.” I click on the Oh My Veggies website, and my suspicions are immediately confirmed; because on this website, they’re not “leading a vegan life.” On this website, vegan and vegetarian recipes are published.

So who are the people behind these two websites?

On Oh My Veggies, there’s a small box in the right-hand top corner, where a photo of a beautiful young couple is published. It is oh-so-perfect, and it is immediately clear that these people are models, and not the site’s bloggers. Yet the text below this photo identifies them as the blog’s owners. I don’t believe it, and no names are given, which ads to my suspicion.

I return to the VegKitchen website and click on the link to their Privacy Policy at the bottom of the page, where they explain how they use my data – “they” being a corporation: 301Brands, LLC. I google the company’s name, and find their official website, where they explain what they do. They publish a number of lifestyle blogs.

I click on one of their brands: Wably. And all of a sudden, I am on a lifestyle website where recipes are published which contain meat and fish.

I click on another one of their brands, Beauty Hacked, a website which focuses on women’s cosmetics. I decide to google the following term “cosmetics firms animal testing,” and find a blog entry on PETA’s website, “These Beauty Brands Are Still Tested on Animals.” I can’t tell when this blog entry was published, so some of it might be old information; but I decide to pick one brand at random, which is mentioned in this article, Clinique. I then search for Clinique on the Beauty Hacked website, and immediately find a blog entry, where Clinique products are mentioned and recommended.

I then check the Privacy Policy on the Oh My Veggies blog (scroll to the bottom of the page), and find that the blog is published by another company, Spork Brands, LLC. This company only has one static page with little information, so I return to 301 Brands, LLC. While I find information about 301 Brand’s team members, I don’t find any information about who actually owns the two websites.

So I google “who is Spork Brands, LLC.” I find an article about this company on Digital Journal, “Spork Brand Closes on First Round of Digital Acquisitions.” And here I finally find the first useful information, as it establishes a clear link between Spork Brands, LLC and 301 Brands, LLC. I also find a name, “Matt Arceneaux, co-founder and CEO of 301 Brands.” Spork Brands, founded in 2017, has purchased the websites Oh My Veggies and Veg Kitchen from 301 Brands. “Spork Brands is backed by a consortium of private investors with experience across a variety of industries.” It is a company which targets women by publishing “niche lifestyle sites.”

I google Matt Arceneaux’s name, and find an article on Marketing Dive, “Report: Major brands scammed in extensive fraud scheme linked to US ad firms.” I read the full report on BuzzFeed News, “Ad Industry Insiders Profited From An Ad Fraud Scheme That Researchers Say Stole Millions of Dollars.” This article ties the ad scam to 301network, to 301 Media and Arceneaux – and to VegKitchen. To summarize, ads from major brands were misused through a “special code that triggered an avalanche of fraudulent views of video ads” by approximately 40 websites, 12 of which were connected to Arceneaux, according to BuzzFeed News. Read the article, it will blow your mind.

So there you have it. I went from “leading a vegan life” on VegKitchen to a vegetarian blog on Oh My Veggies to an omnivore blog on Wably, to a cosmetics website and on to a PETA website about cosmetics & animal testing, and finally to allegations of fraudulent activities.

How’s that for a vegan blog?

Do I really want to use such a site? VegKitchen tries to cash in on the vegan trend, as so many companies do these days. As vegans, we must not let ourselves be exploited by corporations who want to monetize our data and our passions. As a vegan, do you really want to purchase something from a “consortium of private investors,” most of whom probably aren’t vegan themselves and invest the money they make from you on who-knows-what (but probably not on vegan causes)?

Your consumer choices matter. Be vigilant, and always make sure who you’re dealing with when you click on a blog or website.

Posted in Animal Welfare, Vegan - Various, Writing & Publishing | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Blog Roll Updates

Please note: This article was first published on The Vegan Tourist and last updated August 28, 2018.

Every few years, I update my blogroll, and I’m always sad when I see that a blogger has given up and not longer updates his site, or has let his domain registration expire. Once again, I had to cut half a dozen sites from my blogroll, and only a few of the original blogs remain. Time to add a few new ones to my list. I spent all day yesterday surfing the net, checking out vegan blogs, and found a few great ones.  Here they are:

Kristin Lajeunesse has won several awards for her blog, Will Travel for Vegan Food, and rightfully so. She has also written a few books about her experiences as a blogger.

Justin P. Moore blogs on The Lotus and the Artichoke, and he, too, is a published writer. He successfully managed to fund the publication of his first cookbook on Kickstarter, and has since published several cookbooks.

Another vegan travel & food blog I came across and like is Vegan Miam, written by Rika & Doni, who strangely don’t reveal their last names anywhere on their blog. I find that somewhat unsettling, I do like to know who I am dealing with; I would like to know if I am dealing with real people, or if this blog is run by a corporation (trying to influence consumers with fake personalities); it could be run by Russian bots, for all I know. In this day and age, someone somewhere is always trying to influence our votes, our consumer behavior, and our opinions – anonymous blogging just won’t do anymore. So I am little wary about this blog – but they do publish gorgeous photos and yummy recipes.

I quite like A Southern Gypsy, written by freelance writer Ashley Hubbard, as she does not only write about vegan food & travels, but also publishes stories about sustainability issues and vegan activism.

Veggie Visa is a vegan travel & lifestyle blog, written by Randi (no last name). I’m not sure why so many bloggers keep their identities a secret, especially since they are trying to monetize their blogs, but at least Randi does seem to be a real person (not sure about Rika & Doni).

Mindful Wanderlust is written by Giselle & Cody (no last names, I sense a pattern here), and they have won several awards for their blog.

Isa Chandra is written by Isa Chandra Moskowitz, who previously blogged on Post Punk Kitchen. She is a freelance cookbook author.

I quite like The Road Not Taken, a vegan lifestyle, food & travel blog written by Nadia Holmes, who also has her own cooking show on YouTube.

Carolyn Scott-Hamilton’s website, The Healthy Voyager, is a vegan lifestyle & wellness blog. She has published a cookbook, and hosts online travel and cooking shows.

I’ll add more blogs to my blogroll in the future, if I like them. There are many more vegan bloggers, but I can’t recommend all of them. Some bloggers are bad writers, others confuse their blogs with their Instagram accounts and publish mostly photos, and some vegan bloggers have such badly designed blogs that it’s difficult to navigate them. I only recommend blogs I personally like.

Posted in Vegan - Various | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

The Vegan Consumer: Making Better Choices

Please note: This article was first published on The Vegan Tourist on March 12, 2017 and last updated May 25, 2019.

In November 2016, I cancelled my membership of the Vegan Society Austria after a rather unpleasant experience at their Vegan Planet fair. One of the vendors had put out a sign which informed customers that all profits from their sales at this fair would be donated to medical research. I was furious, as this means only one thing: animal research. When I complained, the company’s general manager and staff told me they didn’t care about animal research, and the (vegan!) fair’s organizers didn’t resolve the issue to my satisfaction. I was furious, and penned a couple of angry German-language blog entries, which I have now deleted, as I decided to revert this blog to a strictly English-language blog. (I think it confuses readers, if I blog in two languages.) I swore that I would resign my membership of the Vegan Society Austria – which I did – and that I would donate the money to an NGO instead, which supports research without animal testing, Doctors Against Animal Experiments. I vowed never to buy that particular company’s food products (hummus) again. I also decided to make better buying choices in the future, because I realized that I wasn’t living up to my own personal ethical standards.

While I always buy vegan products, I don’t always buy organic products. In the past, I  shopped frequently at supermarkets, and not at smaller, family-owned stores or at farmer’s markets. I didn’t know anything about the companies which produced the products I was buying, or their business ethics; and I frequently ordered take-out from non-vegetarian restaurants through an online delivery service. I wasn’t just furious at the company which made the (non-organic) hummus. I was angry at myself for buying non-organic foodstuffs in the first place, and for not being a more ethical consumer.

In the years that followed (I am updating this blog entry on May 25, 2019) I did make significant changes to my buying behavior. I now buy very few non-organic food items. Unfortunately, many non-food items are not available in organic quality, e.g. vacuum cleaner bags. There’s also no organic (vegan? non-animal-tested?) substitute for printer toner, and I continue to buy magazines, books, and DVDs. But I have made improvements in regard to my buying behavior.

I did not manage to keep up my boycott of major supermarkets, as intended. While I do shop more often at organic and/or vegan supermarkets, it’s not always possible to do so. I shop more often at Maran Vegan, a small vegan, family-owned supermarket, where all the employees are either vegan or vegetarian. Unfortunately, it’s located far away from where I live, and each shopping trip takes about 2 1/2 hours. I also shop at Denn’s Biomarkt, which is an organic supermarket chain. There’s a branch closer to where I live (15 minutes on foot), so I do most of my shopping there. I’m sorry to say that I still order take-out food over the Internet from non-vegetarian restaurants. When I am too exhausted or too tired to cook, I order out; and there aren’t many vegetarian restaurants which deliver food in Vienna.

© Ingrid Haunold

As I was making such huge changes to my buying behavior, I decided to record all my shopping expenses for one year – but was unable to stick to that decision. I kept records for a few months, but then fell behind, and abandoned the record-keeping. However, I kept records long enough to realize that I buy a lot of  convenience foods and junk food. I also noticed that while I buy plenty of healthy food items, they usually just end up sitting on a shelf for months (and years) on end, until they’re well past their due-date. 2 1/2 years later, not much has changed in this respect.

I am cooking more, and I am slowly using up expired food items in my kitchen. (The photo shows about half of the expired items I found on my shelves in late 2016). Amazingly, they were all still good and usable. But it’s now May 2019, and I still have a few of the items shown in the photo.

All in all, this experience was and continues to be an eye-opener. There’s still much room for improvement, but I’m happy that I have initiated several changes since I first wrote this blog entry in early 2017.

Posted in Animal Welfare, Austria, Vegan - Various, Vienna | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Hummus Place (USA – NY, NY)

Please note: I wrote a draft of this article on March 22, 2012 for The Vegan Tourist, and then forgot to publish it… so here it is. It might be terribly outdated…

It’s time to review Hummus Place, a small NCY restaurant chain, which serves Mediterranean vegetarian food. I had lunch at one of their restaurants way back in May 2011, but never got around to writing the review, which is a shame because I quite enjoyed my visit. There are four Hummus Place restaurants in Manhattan, I ate at one of their two locations on the Upper West Side, at 305 Amsterdam Avenue (at 74th street).

At Hummus Place it’s all about the hummus. A staple of vegan diets, hummus is made of water, chick peas, tahini, olive oil, and lemon. At Hummus Place it’s made fresh (as you’d expect) and tastes delicious.

I ordered one of their lunch specials for $ 7.95, and got a free appetizer with my entrée. I chose Tahini, a sesame seed paste, and the hummus mushrooms (hummus topped with sautéed mushrooms, onions, spices and olive oil). It was served with freshly baked, warm pita bread. I ordered homemade lemonade ($2.50) as a drink. The total bill came to $ 11.38 with tax.

I liked Hummus Place not just for the food, but I also enjoyed the ambiance. There’s lots of wood and brick walls, the restaurants are light and airy and clean – not a given in New York City. The staff also didn’t pressure me to eat up and get out (to make room for the next patron), which happens frequently in Manhattan (and is something that all Europeans hate). Good, cheap food in a clean environment, where you’re allowed to linger – that’s an unbeatable combination.

My one (admittedly minor) complaint about Hummus Place is that vegan dishes aren’t marked as such on the menu. Most of the ingredients are listed, with helps, but “spices” can mean anything. I didn’t order any dessert, as it was unclear if any of them were suitable for vegans. I didn’t order any wine either, as the wine list lacked information about suitability for vegans (most wines are clarified with the help of animal products). I was also unsure about the pita bread. Many kinds of breads are made with animal ingredients, and I’m no baker. I looked up recipes for pita bread online afterwards and was happy to see that pita bread is usually made without milk or eggs; but it would have helped me immensely if all the vegan dishes on the menu had been labeled properly.

When it comes to vegan food, details matter. I could have (and would have) spent considerably more money at Hummus Place, if the menu had been clearer about which dishes and drinks were suitable for vegans. So there’s a missed business opportunity for Hummus Place, due to lack of proper information. It’s a shame really, as this is a vegetarian restaurant chain and there aren’t many of those around. Nevertheless, I whole-heartedly recommend this restaurant. Go visit, you’ll enjoy it.

Address: There are currently four locations in Manhattan, I had lunch at 305 Amsterdam Avenue at 74th Street

Opening hours: opening hours are different for each branch. Check the website. The restaurant on Amsterdam Avenue is open daily 10:30 AM until midnight.

Phone: check the website for each branch’s number

Website: http://www.hummusplace.com

Posted in New York City, Restaurants, Vegan - Various, Vegetarian Restaurants (USA - NY, NY) | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment