Plant foods and the future

Thirty years ago, The Green Door on Main Street, near St. Paul University in Ottawa, was one of the few gathering places for vegetarians in the capital. The vegetarian and friendly cuisine of Ron Farmer and Poppy Weaver, the two founders, attracted a more niche crowd than today. The hippie and “grano” clientele gathered there.

Since then, the restaurant, which offers around thirty meat-free dishes, in buffet style, has continued to evolve.

The premises of the establishment have been enlarged, given its ever-increasing popularity, observes Mr. Farmer.

“The clientele has become younger,” he notes. Vegetarianism has become mainstream.”

According to him, all restaurants should include vegetarian options on their menus.

“It’s no longer surprising to see vegetarian people in a group,” he emphasizes.

“If there are no vegetarian options on the menu, a group of 10 people may well change restaurants to meet the needs of one person. You just lost a lot of money.”

For 16 years at The Green Door, Mr. Farmer has received only positive feedback from omnivorous customers.

Ross Farmer Green Door

“Several vegetarians bring their friends who prefer meat a little against the grain,” he says. They are then surprised to like the dishes. »

Ron Farmer, Co-founder of The Green Door

Vegan and refined

People who love meat are also getting dragged to Chinatown's new vegan restaurant, St. Elsewhere.

Open since October 2023, the establishment defines itself as a wine bar offering “refined” vegan cuisine.

It is one of the few, if not the only, entirely vegan restaurant in Ottawa.

“The city needed this type of restaurant,” believes one of the three owners, Ian Wilson. We want to make this cuisine more popular.”

Ian Wilson, co-owner of St. Elsewhere in Ottawa's Chinatown

In addition to the vegan dishes, we rely here on a well-stocked and diversified cellar of organic wines and imported from all over the world.

His other restaurant, Thr33′s Co. Snack Bar, has been offering many vegetarian options for a while and the owner had noticed the rise in popularity of these dishes.

He therefore embarked with a certain confidence on the adventure of St. Elsewhere.

Reckless decision

Ian Wilson, however, does not hide the fact that one must have guts to open an entirely vegan restaurant in Ottawa.

“It’s a risk that we are ready to take,” maintains the restaurateur. We knew there was a potential clientele, but we are pleasantly surprised to see people's reactions. Some travel from far away to come visit us.”

Ian Wilson St.Elsewhere

Management professor Michael Mulvey confirms that it takes boldness to restrict your menu to plant-based products.

“It has to be exceptional and exceed expectations,” he explains. Quality must be present in every dish and you must find your “signature dish”. This plate that will make people come back. The experience you offer also counts for a lot.”

Vegetarian restaurants' credibility in terms of local sourcing and quality, however, is often established, Mulvey explains, which gives them a competitive advantage.

“They are used to highlighting fresh and local products, it’s more authentic,” he adds.

Her colleague at the University of Ottawa, Leila Hamzaoui-Essoussi, also believes that the world of catering is currently conducive to the success of vegetarian restaurants.

“It's a new taste experience and vegetarians are good at touting the virtues of their diet,” she says.

The one who focuses her research on consumer behavior in different spheres, however, predicts a small increase in vegan and vegetarian restaurants in the future.

What will become more common, she believes, is the offering of meatless options in regular restaurants.

“Vegetarian and vegan cuisines have evolved a lot in terms of flavor, they attract a larger clientele. On the other hand, children are more aware of the impact of food on the environment and health.”

Restaurant: social place

The restaurant is above all a social place, says Professor Mulvey. It must therefore be able to please all of a group's customers.

“I remember going out to a restaurant with a Hindu and vegetarian friend 30 years ago,” he says. He could almost only eat salad. It can be isolating for the person, they feel rejected.”

Ian Wilson St.Elsewhere

For him, it is appropriate to include vegetarian options on a menu.

“It’s as much the basis as installing access for people with reduced mobility,” he illustrates. When my sister, a vegetarian, comes to town, we try to find a restaurant that includes dishes that suit her.”

His colleague Hamzaoui-Essoussi compares vegetarian options to children's menus, which allow for better inclusion.

“Since the pandemic, people are much more informed about food,” observes the woman who is also a consultant to help companies with their market research. “Restaurants cannot afford to lose some customers. This affects fast food as much as Michelin-starred restaurants.”

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