Netflix’s New True Crime Hit bad vegan follows the fall of one of New York’s most beloved restaurants. The docuseries shows how Sarma Melngailis, owner of vegan restaurant Pure Food and Wine and vegan raw food brand One Lucky Duck, met and married Anthony Strangis, a con man who Melngailis says forced her to steal money to his own business and later fleeing the authorities. The duo were eventually accused of transferring more than $1.6 million from the restaurant to personal accounts.
In the four-part documentary, the sensational story behind the downfall of Pure Food and Wine is told by Melngailis herself, as well as several former employees. The former owner and employees described the restaurant before Strangis as a special place to work, with fans now wondering if the restaurant could make a comeback. Here’s everything we know about the famous vegan cafe.
Pure Food and Wine had loyal employees and a celebrity clientele.
Raw vegan restaurant Pure Food And Wine was founded in 2004 as a collaboration between Melngailis and her then-boyfriend, chef Matthew Kenney, with funding from restaurateur Jeffrey Chodorow. In 2005, Melngailis bought out Kenney’s stake and ran it herself, with the Gramercy restaurant building a loyal following, including celebrities like Anne Hathaway, Owen Wilson and recurring personalities. bad vegan namedrop Alec Baldwin, who met his wife Hilaria at the restaurant in 2011.
By food street, the restaurant became known as “vegan-glamorous”, in a time before Impossible Burgers and everything plant-based. Some of their popular offerings included spicy Thai lettuce wraps, zebra tomato and zucchini lasagna with pistachio-basil pesto, and a Master Cleanse Tini (organic sake with lemon juice, maple syrup, and cayenne pepper). There was also intense loyalty among the employees when Melngailis was at the helm, with some workers recalling in the docuseries that they used to call him Sar-mama.
Melngailis later expanded to a brand called One Lucky Duck.
Melngailis had started building an empire the moment she met Strangis. She had written two cookbooks, Raw Food/Real World: 100 Recipes to Shine (co-written with Kenney) in 2005, and Live Raw Foods: Get the shine with more recipes from Pure Food and Wine in 2009. She also opened a trio of juice and take-out bars called One Lucky Duck, complete with a duck logo which she also tattooed on her arm.
The staff ended up protesting after Melngailis failed to meet the payroll.
When the restaurateur met Strangis in 2011, Pure Food and Wine was profitable, although it still had a substantial loan with Chodorow. Then she started giving money to the scammer and undergoing the “cosmic endurance tests” described in bad vegan. Strangis also began to get involved in the day-to-day operations of the restaurant, according to the documentary, to the staff’s alarm.
Melngailis and Strangis began failing to meet payrolls in 2014, with workers missing checks five times that year, per New York Post. Pure Food and Wine temporarily closed in the winter of 2015, after servers, bartenders and kitchen staff left, protesting lack of pay. After reopening for a short time, with a round of new investors, the restaurant closed for good in the spring of 2016.
Melngailis ended up pleading guilty to stealing $1 million from the restaurant. In addition to the stiffened investors, Melngailis owed about $63,000 to the employees, per vanity lounge. The previous owner used the money she was paid for bad vegan back to salary arrears, with the outlet confirming that the refund has been received and most of it has been paid.
“In return for my agreement to hand over documents and footage to the documentary makers, in March 2020 a payment went directly to a lawyer on my behalf, bypassing me entirely, who then paid in full the outstanding judgment that was due to employees who had not been paid after my disappearance in 2015,” she said. “It was a huge relief to have my former staff paid, and I wish I had paid them, whether it was under the form of judgment or not.”
New York fans will have the opportunity to try meals from the original Pure Food and Wine menu.
Although the possibility of a future restaurant run by Melngailis is still in the air, fans of bad vegan will have the chance to taste the cuisine of two former chefs of Pure Food and Wine. A three-course meal of Bad vegan food— cooked by chef Nikki Bennett, the former chef, and chef Missy Maidana, the former pastry chef — will be available to order on Postmates for one weekend only, March 25-27. Meals will include a Caesar salad starter, a raw a lasagna dish and a Mallomar dessert, all from the restaurant’s original menu and all available free of charge, with no delivery charge, plus a personalized tote, while supplies last. .