We had a chat with laura recently, and she shared the inspiration and evolution of Cleveland Vegan.
How did Cleveland Vegan get started? What was your inspiration?
The idea began with Justin in late 2011 after the band he was touring with broke up. Between touring dates he had been working in the culinary field at his uncle's restaurant downtown and then at Feed Me Catering where he learned a lot of the catering business practices. So after the band broke up and we had become vegan, he kept saying how he hated preparing meat and other foods that we both felt were unhealthy. After cooking elsewhere all day, he would come home and prepare the most creative and flavorful vegan food and I always used to say to him "I wish people could taste this food, you should be making this for a living." So after discussions like this for about 6 months, we decided to start seeing about making it happen.
We put a menu together, had a friend design our website, another friend help us with all the design and logos. It was the most organic and natural process I have even been a part of in my life. It was almost like another force was moving us. When we became discouraged, people everywhere seemed to keep telling us to do it. We launched the business in August 2012. We are so inspired by the healing we see and hear about every day from those people who have switched over to a plant based and vegan diet.
What is the Vegan scene like in Cleveland?
With two little babies, there is very little of any scene that we are aware of. However, I would say the vegan scene is very alive and active. There are still not a lot of vegan only cafe/restaurants, but there are a lot of restaurants with vegan friendly menus, vegan nights. The last two years a large scale event called VegFest has helped bring a lot of awareness to veganism.
Favorite thing on your menu?
Hmmm such a very hard question. Some of my favorites on our cafe menu are our biscuits and gravy or Red Curry Noodles...we also make a Raw Pad Thai with a Thai peanut sauce that is out of this world. And our sweets are my weakness. I love our chocolate chip cookie...the best one vegan or not that I have even had!
Tell us about Justin's other identity - DJ Kishka!
Justin has been a performer his whole life. He started playing piano when he was five years old. When he was in high school, he took up the accordion. He is Polish and acquired over the years many of his Dad and Grandpa's polka records.
About 10 years ago at The Happy Dog he was hanging out and a polka band was supposed to be playing...but they had to cancel last minute. Justin grabbed his turn table and records and decided to spin some Polkas in lieu of the band. That was the beginning and birth of DJ Kishka.
Once a month, Polka Happy Hour happens at the Happy Dog. He spins polkas, plays the accordion, gets the crowd involved, tells funny jokes at times...its an experience that you just have to witness to really get. He also wears a fake beard and sometimes lederhosen. Five years ago we also started a Polish festival called Dyngus Day in Cleveland. Last year in the Detroit Shoreway neighborhood nearly 20,000 people attended. Its been a wild ride.
What are your thoughts about Cleveland in general and all the positive energy and exciting projects occurring here?
It is sort of amazing watching the vibrancy, growth and creativity happening in Cleveland.
I am so proud to have remained here after college after considering moving back to New York City (thinking that city had more to offer). There is so much to explore and absolutely always something going on. I love CLE!