Plant-based diets have soared in popularity over the past few years. In fact, according to GlobalData, there has been a 600% increase in people identifying as vegans in the U.S. alone in the last three years. And contrary to popular belief, there’s more to these diets than just simple salads—you CAN get creative. While meat lovers around the world may be skeptical of enjoying a meal made of mostly grains and greens, these New York vegan/vegetarian restaurants prove that plants and meat substitutes can be delicious.
Sol Sips - Williamsburg
Far wiser than her 22 years, Francesca Chaney opened the permanent location of Sol Sips this past April in Brooklyn. The homey “bevs and bites” location is inspired by everything soul, from music to food. The name Sol Sips was even born from Chaney’s musical past; she sang in a duo called Sol and Luna, believing in the power of music healing therapy.
Now she’s more focused on food therapy, putting a heavy dose of healthy ingredients into all of her vegan drinks and snacks to fuel her customers. “The wellness perspective on food has always been a big interest to me, using food as preventative medicine and ways to heal ourselves has been my passion,” explains Chaney.
Sol Sip's Sawai Sweet Smoothie outside their Brooklyn shop
Chaney is happily incorporating her roots into her restaurant. One of Sol Sips’ standouts is the green banana tamale, a traditional recipe from Belize that she learned from her grandmother. “That’s a simple dish that has always been vegan, and it wasn’t necessarily branded as vegan in the culture,” says Chaney.
Her favorite thing on the menu? The bacon, egg and cheese. Sol Sips brings a vegan twist to the New York breakfast staple, using tempeh bacon, chickpea egg, and Violife cheese. “It’s something that is hard to find anywhere else,” says Chaney. “It’s very earth-based.”
In a year, she hopes to see her business expand to other areas of New York via pop-ups. She also has her eyes on a Zagat award and is looking to extend her own community outreach. Within a few months, we might find some Sol Sips bottled drinks on our local shelves.
Erin McKenna’s Bakery - Lower East Side
In 2005, Erin McKenna set out in the Lower East Side to create a bakery free of harmful ingredients while wearing cute uniforms. Her first bakery is still there, with additional locations in Los Angeles and Orlando and a nation-wide shipping reach if you’re ever caught craving her desserts anywhere else in the U.S.
Erin McKenna’s Bakery looks exactly like what you’d expect any other bakery to look like. There are pastel-colored cakes displayed in the front window and a small counter with a glass display, for you to point to your choice of dessert if you feel so inclined. However, this commonplace seeming spot comes with a large title: It’s the country's leading gluten free, vegan, certified kosher bakery, and McKenna herself is a bit of a superstar.
Erin McKenna's Lemon Sugar Cookies. Photo courtesy of erinmckennasbakery.com
Having appeared on Martha Stewart, the Today Show and Rachel Ray, McKenna has forged her path as one of the best bakers for those with food allergies and sensitivities—or just those who are looking to indulge in a better-for-you sweet.
The crowd pleasers are the red velvet cupcakes and delectable donuts.
Little Choc Apothecary - Williamsburg
First-time restaurateur Julia Kravets sought to create a healthy restaurant that offered food that was good for your body. It wasn’t until she watched Earthlings, a documentary about human economic dependence on animals, that she decided she couldn’t ethically make a living supporting animal cruelty. The result: New York City’s first fully vegan creperie offering an array of sweet and savory options.
“I'm enjoying the challenge of convincing people that vegan and gluten-free crepes are not going to resemble the experience of eating chalk. The difficult part is getting people past their preconceptions, and actually trying our stuff--after that, they're hooked,” says Kravets. Photo courtesy of Patrick Yandoc
Besides crepes, Little Choc Apothecary is also stocked with 100 different herb varieties for any custom tea combination imaginable, earning the term “apothecary.” Herbs are also available to be taken home by the ounce.
Her advice to other women starting off in the restaurant industry? “Be a Jane of all trades. I encourage people to keep a calm demeanor, and work through each problem as it comes along. There's a problem to be solved at every corner, and you can't be discouraged or overwhelmed by that, because that's what's going to drown your business.”
The Butcher's Daughter - Nolita
As a self-proclaimed “vegetable slaughterhouse,” the Butcher’s Daughter avoids the mess of meat in favor of carving deliciously fresh pant-based options incorporated into mouth-watering meals. Serving breakfast, lunch, dinner, and weekend brunch, they truly do it all, and have built quite the plant-based empire.
The Butcher's Daughter opened their West Village location in 2016, their second in NYC, having already established itself as a popular venue. There are also locations in LA, and another coming to Brooklyn soon, so keep your eyes peeled. Tierney is dedicated to buying locally-sourced ingredients and relies on Head Juiceologist, Brandi Kowalski, to develop the tastiest of juices.
Smashed avocado toast with a sunny-side-up egg from The Butcher's Daughter
If visiting the cozy Nolita location, you’ll immediately notice the Butcher’s Daughter settled snugly on the corner of Kenmare and Elizabeth St.
It looks as if it were dropped there from a hygge-filled Danish town. The entrance is flanked by wooden benches always teeming with hungry customers, not matter the time or day. Sunshine yellow flowers, vibrant juices boasting the colors of the rainbow, and wicker baskets brimming with fruits and greens are just a few of the enticing sights. That being said, the dishes are the real stars: avocado toast topped with a sumptuous, runny egg, creamy açaí bowls with coconut granola, spiced wellness lattes, and a plethora of other healthful delicacies. Even the most carnivorous of carnivores would find themselves sated after a Butcher’s Daughter meal.
Dirt Candy - Lower East Side
After an impressive ten years of professional cooking under her belt, Amanda Cohen decided to start Dirt Candy in 2008. Chock-full of creative recipe ideas with no outlet to test them while working for someone else, Cohen found the ultimate solution: become her own boss.
Dirt Candy’s menu is inventive and ever-changing. From classic dinner items with a plant-based twist, like the jalapeno hush puppies and brussels sprout tacos, to unexpected desserts, like onion chocolate tarts and carrot meringue pies, expect to be surprised. How does Cohen pick what to put on her menu? Whatever idea pops out of her brain and onto the plate. “Unlike a lot of places that lock their menus, I’m constantly putting new dishes on the menu. Come here in January then come back in December, and you won’t recognize the meal. I love making new dishes, it’s where my heart is.”
Dirt Candy's Onion Chocolate Tart with Almond Ice Cream
Not one to romanticize her niche industry, Cohen admits her vegetables aren’t handpicked from a garden or market. “I love this image of chefs strolling through the green market with a wicker basket, sniffing carrots,” she says. “I get my vegetables where pretty much everyone in the city gets their vegetables: in a box, off a truck. People already don’t eat enough vegetables, so I don’t see the point in making them sound even more elitist and ridiculous.” Forgoing an idealistic stroll past leafy produce does not pose a problem for Cohen’s popularity, as Dirt Candy has been praised by the New York Times, the Village Voice, and the New Yorker.
"I’m constantly putting new dishes on the menu. Come here in January then come back in December, and you won’t recognize the meal. I love making new dishes, it’s where my heart is"Though she has received her fair share of positive press over the years, Cohen acknowledges the glaring disparity in recognition of women versus men in the food world, women typically receiving less coverage than their male counterparts. She advises other women to “put [their] head down, work harder, and figure out a way to do more with less” as well as to support each other. “If we’re not helping each other, then what’s the point?”
In many ways I am a shining example of the American Dream. I was born in Hungary during the Communist era, and my family fled to Israel before coming to the U.S. in pursuit of freedom and safety. When we arrived, I was just a young, shy girl who couldn't speak English. After my childhood in Hungary, New York City was a marvel; I couldn't believe that such a lively, rich place existed. Even a simple thing like going to the market and seeing all the bright, colorful produce and having so many choices was new to me. I'll never take that for granted. I think it's where my love affair with color truly began.
One thing I had was a strong work ethic. I worked hard in school, to learn English, and at jobs including my first job at Dairy Queen -- which I loved! Ice cream is easily my favorite food. From there, I moved into the garment district where my brother-in-law's family had a business. During this time, I was able to see how a business was run and began to hone in on my eye for aesthetics and willingness to work hard at any task I was given.
Eventually, my brother-in-law bought a dental supply company in Los Angeles and asked me to join him. LA, a place with 365-days of sunshine. How could I say no? The company started as Odontorium Products Inc. During the acrylic movement of the 1980s, we realized that nail technicians were buying our product, and that the same components used for dentures were used for artificial nails. We saw a potential opening in the market, and we seized it. OPI began dropping off the "rubber band special" at every salon on Ventura Blvd. in Los Angeles. A jar of powder, liquid and primer – rubber-banded together – became the OPI Traditional Acrylic System and was a huge hit, giving OPI its start in the professional nail industry. It was 1981 when OPI first opened its doors. I couldn't have predicted our success, but I knew that hard work and faith in myself would be key in transforming a new business into a company with global reach.
When we started OPI, what we were doing was something new. Before OPI came on the scene, the generic, utilitarian nail polish names already on the market – like Red No. 4, Pink No. 2 – were completely forgettable. We rebranded the category with catchy names that we knew women could relate to and would remember. The industry was stale and boring, so we made it more fun and sexy. We started creating color collections. I carefully developed 30 groundbreaking colors for the debut collection -- many of which are still beloved bestsellers today, including Malaga Wine, Alpine Snow and Kyoto Pearl.
There is no other nail color brand in the world that touches the totality of industries the way OPI does.
With deep roots in Tinseltown, we eventually started collaborating with Hollywood. Our decision to collaborate with the entertainment industry also propelled OPI forward in another way, ultimately leading us to finding a way to connect with women beyond the world of beauty, relating our products to the beverages they drink, the cars they drive, the movies they watch, the clothes they wear – even the shade they use to paint their living room walls! There is no other nail color brand in the world that touches the totality of industries the way OPI does. It also propelled my growth as a businessperson forward. I found myself sitting in meetings with executives from some of the top companies in the world. I didn't have a fancy presentation. I didn't have a Harvard business degree. I realized that what I had was passion. I had a passion for what we were doing, and I had my own unique story that no one else could replicate.
Discipline, hard work, and passion gave me the confidence to grow from that shy immigrant girl to become the person that I am today
Bit by bit, I grew up with the business. Discipline, hard work, and passion gave me the confidence to grow from that shy immigrant girl to become the person that I am today -- an author, public speaker, and co-founder of OPI, the world's #1 professional nail brand.
I learned quickly that one can be an expert at many things, but not everything. Running a business is very hard work. Luckily, I had someone I could collaborate with who brought something new to the table and complemented my talents, my brother-in-law George Schaeffer. My business "superpower," or the ability to make decisions quickly and confidently, kept me ahead of trends and competition.
Another key to my success in building this brand and in growing in business was being authentic. Authenticity is so important to brands and maybe even more so now in the time of social media when you can speak directly to your consumers. I realized even then that I could only be me. I was a woman who knew what I wanted. I looked at my mother and daughter and wanted to create products that would excite and empower them.
There's often an expectation placed on women in charge that they need to be cutthroat to be competitive, but that's not true. Rather than focusing on my gender or any implied limitations I might bring to the job as a female and a mother, I always focused instead on my vision. I deliberately fostered an environment at OPI filled with warmth. After all, at the end of the day, your organization is only as good as its people. I've always found that being nice, being humble, and listening to others has served me well. Instead of pushing others down to get to the top, inspire them and bring them along on the journey.
You can read more about my personal and professional journey in my new memoir out now, I'm Not Really a Waitress: How One Woman Took Over the Beauty Industry One Color at a Time.