Foodservice Equipment & Supplies

MAR 2018

Foodservice Equipment & Supplies magazines is an industry resource connecting foodservice operators, equipment and supplies manufacturers and dealers, and facility design consultants.

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54 • FOODSERVICE EQUIPMENT & SUPPLIES • MARCH 2018 Dirt Candy Ownership: Amanda Cohen Founded: 2008, New York Segment: Upscale vegetarian Average Ticket: $90 with alcohol Best Sellers: Brussels sprout tacos, Korean fried broccoli, portobello mousse with sauteed Asian pears, cherries and truffle toast New York chef and cookbook author Amanda Cohen has been a pioneer in the vegetable-forward move- ment since opening Dirt Candy in 2008. Its original, 18-seat East Village restaurant garnered a two-star review from the New York Times and was rec- ognized by the Michelin Guide for five consecutive years. In 2015, with lines out the door and demand for reservations high, she moved Dirt Candy to a larger, 50-seat space on the city's Lower East Side. There, it continues to thrive and evolve along with its customer base. Last fall Cohen transitioned the restaurant away from an a la carte menu in favor of two tasting menu options: The Vegetable Patch features 5 courses of Dirt Candy's greatest hits for $57, with optional $45 wine pairings; and The Vegetable Garden features 9 to 10 courses that change based on seasons, product avail- ability and chef's whims for $83, with optional $65 wine pairings. "The kind of food Dirt Candy makes is different from what you'll find else- where, and I noticed that customers were getting frustrated because they didn't have enough guidance on how to get the most out of it," Cohen says. "From there it was an easy decision to go to tasting. This way, they can get either a full-on decadent experience or just sample what we do and see my kitchen at its best." Cohen estimates her current cus- tomer base to be 40 percent omnivores and 60 percent herbivores, slightly more herbivores than when the restaurant first opened. She notes that managing chang- ing customer expectations remains a big challenge for plant-based restaurants. "For a long time, running a vegeta- ble restaurant meant you were running a place that existed to serve a lifestyle — vegetarians and vegans," Cohen says. "The quality of the food was less im- portant than fitting into that lifestyle. Restaurants had to fit the proper moral and political niche, such as supporting PETA or other animal rights organiza- tions, embracing a humanist ethos, be- ing a hub for groups that embrace the vegan or vegetarian philosophy. These days, customers expect some kind of health and fitness agenda from a vegetable restaurant. I don't do politics at Dirt Candy, and I feel like the plate isn't a medicine cabinet. The toughest thing for me has been getting people used to the idea that all Dirt Candy does is make vegetables delicious and that we don't have a bigger agenda." DEFINING A NEW NORMAL If it all seems like a tsunami of indicators favoring a more plant-forward foodser- vice industry, it is. And many advocat- ing for that change remain confident that, while traditional niche vegetarian and vegan restaurants have long been outliers, a new generation of more mainstream, plant-forward operations continue to emerge that transcends trend, fad or niche status. Sophie Egan, who heads up health and sustainability leadership and serves as editorial director of strategic initiatives at the Culinary Institute of America (CIA), says the ultimate goal is for plant-forward to become the new normal, and eventually, simply the normal. That's a shift that Menus of Change, the six-year-old initiative from the CIA and Harvard's T.H. Chan School of Public Health, is working to help bring about. The industry-wide effort seeks to "realize a long- term, practical vision integrating optimal nutrition and public health, environmental stewardship and restoration, and social responsibility concerns within the foodser- vice industry and the culinary profession." Within that broad framework, and in the interest of making sustainable, healthful and delicious plant-forward dining mainstream, Menus of Change recently developed a defi- nition to provide clarity around the concept. Specifically, plant-forward does not neces- sarily mean vegan or vegetarian. Rather, it represents "a style of cooking and eating that emphasizes and celebrates, but is not limited to, plant-based foods — including fruits and vegetables (produce); whole grains; beans, legumes (pulses) and soy foods; nuts and seeds; plant oils; and herbs and spices — and that reflects evidence- based principles of health and sustainability." The definition, Egan asserts, is far more inclusive. For operators in the veggie-centric, plant-forward restaurant space, the shift is bringing validation and vigor to new play- ers and legacy concepts. Following are a few operators whose successes prove that, while meat still reigns supreme, America's appetite for plant-forward alternatives is healthy and growing. Having outgrown the original location's capacity to meet demand, Amanda Cohen relocated Dirt Candy to a larger, 50-seat location in 2015. Photo by Evan Sung Where's The Beef?

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