Once in a while, someone comes into Kyla Rawlyns and Geremie Voigt’s restaurant and asks a two-word question: “Got meat?” Since the East Vancouver residents run North Vancouver’s only vegan café, the answer is no.
Rawlyns and Voigt have been best friends since Grade 8. Now both 30 years old, the pair of vegans live together and write songs together, so it’s only fitting they opened Buddha-Full Juice & Smoothies (101–106 West 1st Street) in September 2010 as a partnership.
“We wanted something on the North Shore that fit our lifestyle, and there wasn’t anything like that around here,” Voigt told the Georgia Straight in the Lower Lonsdale café, as Rawlyns whipped up a smoothie. “So, we wanted something that has organics, something that has vegan items.”
Infused with Rawlyns and Voigt’s friendly vibe, Buddha-Full is just one of a handful of vegan restaurants that have sprung up in Vancouver’s suburbs over the past few years.
According to Voigt, “conscious eaters” of all ages, ethnicities, and occupations are drawn to Buddha-Full’s raw and cooked fare. Popular items include the chickpea-eggplant-curry-mango wrap with salad ($6.95) and the Lonsdale Bohemian smoothie ($6.50), containing hemp protein, dates, peanut butter, banana, and almond milk.
While all of the café’s food is free of animal products, Buddha-Full isn’t 100-percent vegan because it offers customers the option of having cow’s milk and honey with their coffee and tea.
Geremie Voigt gives a tour of Buddha-Full Juice & Smoothies in North Vancouver.
Much like Buddha-Full’s owners, Port Coquitlam resident Vanessa Mills told the Straight she opened Chomp in November 2011 in part to contribute to the community. For Mills, this means planning open-mike nights, giving local artists a place to show their work, and supporting Tri-Cities charities.
Good vegan options are hard to find in the suburbs, according to Mills. Indeed, some of her customers have experienced their first brush with veganism at Chomp.
“It’s kind of nice, because every person is different and every reaction is different,” Mills said at her restaurant in Suter Brook Village. “So, it’s good. Very few are disappointed, I should say. They’re just intrigued by it.”
So far, Chomp’s most-often-ordered dishes are the Mac ’n Cheesy ($9.22), Grilled Cheese Madness ($9.22), and poutine ($9), all made with Vancouver’s own Daiya dairy-free cheese.
Vanessa Mills gives a tour of Chomp Vegan Eatery in Port Moody.
On a beachfront street lined with fish-and-chips shops and ice-cream parlours, White Rock’s Organic Connections Café (15622 Marine Drive) stands out from the pack.
Opened in December 2010, the restaurant serves organic and vegan raw meals, including pizza topped with cashew cheese and Brazil-nut Parmesan ($15), and cooked dishes, such as classic borscht ($5 for a small bowl, $8 for a large portion). Organic Connections isn’t completely vegan, making cow’s milk and honey available for coffee and tea.
Owner Jason Stelmachovich, a flexitarian who lives in Surrey, told the Straight he’s dealt with a steep learning curve, having run a phonebook-distribution and pinecone-picking company before entering the restaurant business. But locals are “happily surprised” when they give his café a chance, according to him.
“You have people that aren’t vegan and sit down for a bowl of soup or a quinoa bowl and try something out and are shocked at how tasty and filling the food is,” Stelmachovich said in the café, as outside waves washed ashore and windsurfers sailed off White Rock Beach.
In Burnaby, Paradise Vegetarian Noodle House (8681 10th Avenue) has been in business since 2003.
Co-owner Kim Nguyen told the Straight the Vietnamese restaurant went 100-percent vegan a couple or so years ago because of the meat and dairy industries’ contribution to climate change. Now, Paradise serves Vietnamese coffee with soy milk instead of condensed cow’s milk.
“We want to help customers to recognize the importance of being vegetarian or vegan,” Nguyen, a Surrey resident, said by phone from her restaurant along the New Westminster border. “They can save their lives and also save the planet.”
At Buddha-Full, Rawlyns and Voigt are looking forward to turning their café, which already hosts djembe lessons, into a live-music and poetry-slam venue. For Rawlyns, the overriding goal has always been to make everyone feel welcome and build a “friendship” around their business.
“I realize it’s just really, really important to be yourself, even though there’s a counter there,” Rawlyns told the Straight, sitting on a seat cushion inscribed with the affirmation “I am nourished”. “Just educating people and making them feel comfortable. Just because it’s vegan doesn’t mean you have to act different or make them feel like they’re different or special in any way.”