In Less Than One Year Five Restaurants Went Vegan In Sydney…What’s Happening?

I’m that passionate vegan that waged war against the Paleo peeps in 2013 when I veganized a NYC restaurant named GustOrganics. Basically I thought people would love that we went meat-free, but the total opposite happened (at least for some people). In a matter of days my inbox flooded with hate letters, people were threatening me on and our Yelp page went up in flames. Then something miraculous happened. The fires ceased, reviews went up and so did the bottom line. We were actually MORE successful as a vegan restaurant than a Paleo restaurant in the end. Naturally when I heard about all the places veganizing in Sydney, I had to go. Let’s meet Sydney’s veganized heroes:

Gigi’s Pizzeria: The Catalyst

Gigi is a family owned authentic Italian Pizzeria. Created in 2007, it is the brain child of Marco and Daniela Matino and up until 2015, the menu was flooded with words like: mozzarella, prosciutto and salami. Like most restaurants breaking into the food scene, it was a struggle for the first couple years. They are people who believed in organic growth so advertisements were not an option. They wanted word-of-mouth to be their road to a sustainable business. Finally in 2013, their method worked. They evolved into being one of the most popular pizzerias in Sydney. Just as their continuum of success reached its peak, something happened. Marco’s mother met Australian vegan psychologist, Clare Mann. Soon enough, Marco’s mother and sister delved into the deep-end of veganism. Through gentle influence, mom and sister would soon become the catalysts for a major change at Gigi Pizzeria.

Lorenzo, the manager of Gigi, says he remembers the day clearly when Chef Marco walked out of the kitchen in the middle of a dinner rush — line out the door. He admits, “It was as if Marco saw a ghost. His face was white and he was staring into space as he stated: we need to be vegan.” If you ask Marco what happened that day, this is how he would respond:

“I was arguing with my mom and sister and doing research mainly because I was looking for a reason to justify using animals and I simply couldn’t find that reason and I was going mad. What my mom and sister were saying made sense, I just couldn’t imagine my business being vegan. We all watched Cowspiracy, Forks Over Knives and we would watch bits and pieces of Earthlings at work all together. Once I learned what I’d been told throughout my whole life wasn’t the truth, I was devastated. I learned something that was so profoundly important; that we are participating in something that doesn’t make sense and I learned it after I’d gone to school and got to an age where it’s legal to run a business and sell what I want to sell and buy what I want to buy. I learned at age 32 that neither we (humans) nor the planet are designed to eat or use animals.”

After Marco’s raise in consciousness, Gigi began featuring vegan specials on the ‘Special’s board’ while Lorenzo began speaking to all the patrons about the soon-to-be shift. Just like my restaurant in NYC, Gigi too was met with the same cultural resistance. They were two weeks away from flipping the menu and it was clear that patrons were not happy with the newly featured vegan dishes. One day, Lorenzo took a rag and erased the word “vegan” from the board, leaving only the descriptions. The vegan pizzas sold out and people raved about them…This changed everything.

On September 23, 2015 Gigi Pizzeria became the first restaurant in all of Australia to flip 180 degrees from fully omnivore to fully vegan. So how are they doing two years later? They still have lines out the door. They are still considered one of the top pizzerias in Sydney and they still serve only vegan pizzas. In fact, according to Lorenzo, they are more profitable than ever. The best part about Gigi’s flip is the fact that their bravery inspired other Sydney restaurants follow suit.

Within one year, Gelato Bleu, Two Chaps, Soul Burger, Green Lion Hotel and Yellow Restaurant have all flipped their menus to plant-based. How are each of these businesses handling their own transition? Soul Burger Owner, Amit Tewari, comments:

“Financially it has actually helped! Which is surprising because I anticipated we’d lose a lot of money for a long time. It (the change) has done well enough for me to bring about Phase 2 of the Soul Burger plan, which is our Soul500 initiative.”

Similarly, Ravi DeRossi, a famous NYC restauranteur conclusively admits to increasing his income by 100% at his veganized restaurant Mother Of Pearl. And what about Gelato Blue? When I visited their Newtown location, there was a line out the door and I had to wait nearly 10 minutes just to be served — well worth the wait.

When I sat down with Yellow owner and chef: Brent Savage, he confessed:

There is so much you can do with plants and they’re so tasty. There is just no limit. Our transition was interesting. We got hit with a lot of right-winged hard core views from local press but we also got tons of emails from patrons excited about our switch. The good news is, we are busier than ever and it’s a trend that isn’t stopping. We went plant-based only nine months ago (January 2016)and we’ve been full every night from the time we announced it.”

Clearly, these restauranteurs are onto something. In 2016 alone, I tracked sixteen restaurants that went 100% vegan, all of which are thriving. Now there is empirical data that flipping your business is in fact a smart business move in addition to being socially, environmentally and ethically sound.

So why aren’t more doing it? Well, certainly this is a trend that will pick up momentum but Marco (Gigi Owner) points out:

“As a restauranteur you think serving animals is something you can’t avoid. It’s so abundant in our culture and society. It’s so abundant that you think to yourself, we wouldn’t be doing this if we didn’t need to be doing this. You don’t question it. We’ve been severely brainwashed.”

However, with mediums like Facebook and Netflix, non-stop content is being presented to our brains and restauranteurs all over the world are confronting that fact that their businesses are socially and environmentally irresponsible. Places like Gigi Pizzeria are showing the world that going vegan is not only ethically satisfying, but also, financially lucrative. It is my prediction that there is going to be a restaurant evolution taking place in a way that the world has never seen. I firmly believe that over the next decade animals will disappear from menus across the globe and this transition may be the single most influential variable to saving our planet. Since people put endless energy and capital into running a restaurant they may fear such a transition but the smart one’s will see that even if they don’t ethically make the switch, fully veganizing is something to seriously consider for their bottom line.