Why some vegan restaurants start to sell real meat — and how to avoid it

Imagine that you own a vegan restaurant located in a big city. The vegan community is important and your gluten-free concept allows you to stand out.

But now, a few months after your opening, you realize that vegans already have their favourite restaurants, and that your competitors have asked their customers not to set foot in your house.

Worse, you realize that a large portion of your clientele is not vegan and that many people leave the restaurant when they realize that the choice on your menu is too restrictive.

Therefore, to remain profitable, you decide to sell meat and fish, and other animal products. This story seems to make no sense?

Yet this is what recently happened to the Eden Sans Gluten, a former vegan restaurant located near Strasbourg, France. After two years of operation in a 100% vegetable and gluten-free kitchen, the restaurant becomes “vegan-friendly” and serves products of animal origin to its customers. The managers explained their motivations on Facebook:

Although it is too early to know the consequences of this change in strategy on the health of the restaurant, we can note that it has provoked strong reactions on social networks. More than 437 people commented on the post, mostly vegans from the region, to express their dissatisfaction. The post also received comments of support from customers who believe that this “openness” will perhaps give a better image of plant-based food to non-vegans. If this story has the appearance of a bad buzz, it is perhaps less of one than it looks. It is rather a sad story for animals, and we should wonder how it could have happened.

If there are important lessons to be learned, they are the following:

  • Vegan restaurants come with a militant dimension that is not to be neglected. A change in strategic direction can provoke strong reactions, and we must be prepared for it.
  • The activist dimension of vegan restaurants means making sure you have activists ready to support your restaurant before you embark on the adventure and realize that everyone is going to eat at the competitor’s already well established.
  • It is difficult to rely solely on vegan or vegan-friendly customers to remain profitable in some areas. In particular, this region of France is particularly conservative and traditionalist. Maybe the same restaurant would have been an incredible success in Paris, we don’t know. So, before opening, question the relevance of your location.

I will continue to follow this story and keep you informed of the evolution of this restaurant, perhaps we can learn more lessons. It would be interesting to see how leaving a niche market (vegan + gluten-free) affects their financial health.

In the meantime, I invite you to give me your opinion on the lessons I have learned, and to apply them if they seem relevant to your vegan restaurant.

I’m also interested in knowing what you would have done if you had been in their shoes.

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