Nearly 30 years ago the first Restaurant Week launched in New York. Since then, cities around the U.S. host a week of special prices and prix fixe meals to promote restaurants and dining out.
For vegans, Restaurant Week isn’t always the place to be.
Baltimore hosted a Vegan Restaurant Week two years ago and that inspired two Main Street Vegan Academy alumni to create their own version.
JL Fields, Colorado Springs
Two years ago I got a Google news alert about Baltimore’s Vegan Restaurant Week. I thought it was inspired! I immediately wrote to four restaurant owners inviting them to join in on a vegan restaurant week in Colorado Springs with the caveat that I would only do it if all four of them participated. Within an hour they all replied, “YES!” and I built a no frills website within an hour to outline what vegan means, describe the options available to restaurants (a special or a prix fixe menu), and offer an online application. First year results:
- The only paid promotion was on Facebook and within about a month we had eight participating restaurants. (For a city of just over 450,000 and only three vegan restaurants – at the time – this was a huge success).
- Our restaurant week launched on November 1 – World Vegan Day – and ran for five days.
- Every single participating restaurant said it was one of the best weeks they had ever had in November.
- The vegans (and veg-curious) really showed up!
- And so did the chefs.
- There was no fee for the restaurants to participate.
Word of mouth rocked the first event and in 2018, 24 restaurants participated.
I continue to coordinate the Colorado Springs Vegan Restaurant Week as a volunteer because I think it’s an incredible way to encourage all restaurants to think about vegan and plant-based diners and it’s a great way to show vegans, vegetarians, and veg-forward diners that we have really talented chefs in town who know how to throw down the vegan food
Carmella Lanni, Philadelphia
Philly Vegan Restaurant Week, aka PVRW, launched in September 2018. The idea came from Nicole Koedyker, as local area restaurant weeks weren’t inclusive of vegan diners. She brought together our team of 6 to organize a vegan week.
While Philadelphia has a vibrant vegan scene, the week also recognized non-vegan businesses serving vegan options. We would have been happy if just 10 places participated. We were surprised that 30+ restaurants signed up, donating a portion of sales to a local vegan non-profit
Our approach involved:
- Not limiting participation to fixed price menus; allowing single exclusive menu items.
- Hosting special events (e.g. launch party and bake sale).
- Building relationships between customers, businesses and a local non-profit.
Our first week was successful. We raised money. Restaurants were eager to continue their vegan offerings. We did it with little to no budget.
Key takeaways that first time were:
- Customers expect full restaurant details on our website
- Tracking donations is hard work. We had businesses send donations directly to the non-profit, which made accounting at our end more difficult.
- It’s important to support restaurants before, during and after the week. Businesses want to meet expectations of vegan diners.
September’s results led to TWO PVRWs in 2019. In April, we saw participation grow to 45+ businesses. We received great feedback from non-vegan restaurants, expanding or keeping vegan items on their menus.
What we did differently the second year:
- Included a map on phillyvrw.com with business/event locations.
- Included suburban businesses. For example, we hosted a “Breakfast for Dinner” event at a restaurant in Woodlyn, PA, a restaurant about 18 miles outside Philly, for those who couldn’t make it into the city during PVRW.
- Each organizer ran our Instagram to show how we were celebrating PVRW.
- Included caterers to participate in special events.
- Oversaw donation collections to ensure accountability & manage accounting.
We’re evaluating results from April but are already planning for our October week. We have participants re-upping, and new businesses excited to join. I cannot wait to see the city support it!
JL Fields is a vegan chef, coach, and consultant. She is the founder and culinary director of the Colorado Springs Vegan Cooking Academy and a Master Vegan Lifestyle Coach and Educator. JL is the author of several cookbooks, including Vegan Meal Prep, Vegan Pressure Cooking and The Vegan Air Fryer and co-author of The Main Street Vegan Academy Cookbook with Victoria Moran.
Carmella Lanni is an NYC native turned South Philly vegepreneur. She is the co-owner of Philadelphia’s first all-vegan convenience store, V Marks the Shop. In 2016, she founded Philly Vegan Pop Flea, a vegan pop-up marketplace, supporting local & vegan business.