Some Vegan Restaurants in LA Not Vegan??

Earlier today I posted about a massive list of Vegan Restaurants in LA including Vegan Express and Hollywood Vegan. Sortly after making the post I was directed to a post on Livingvegan.org claiming that these two restaurants were serving products with non-vegan ingredients includingWhey.

Being vegan myself this is not a good thing to hear. Immediately I called Vegan Express [3217 Cahuenga Blvd, (323) 851-8837] and asked about this. The person I spoke to, who refused to give me his name, or the name of the manager, or the owner, denied that they served anything with Whey. When I asked for an offical statement he said “Look dude, these rumors have been flying around for a while and it’s because of a specific soy protien supplier that invcludes Whey in it’s products so you’d have to check which places use that supplier.” When I asked the name of the supplier, or the product he was referring to, he told me “you are going to have to do the work on your own, no one is going to hand you this information” and then hung up.

I tried several different numbers for Hollywood Vegan [1769 Hillhurst Ave] all of which were disconnected. Obviously this sounds very sketchy and worth looking more into. I’m going to try and swing by one of these places and ask for an ingredients list and to speak with a manager in person. If anyone else is near one of these locations and wants to try that as well, please let me know how it goes and I’ll update this post with info as I get it.

9 Replies to “Some Vegan Restaurants in LA Not Vegan??”

  1. So basically they’re saying is that they can put whatever they want in your food, no matter what they’re advertising it as?

    Are loogies considered vegan?

  2. Hollywood Vegan has has several non-vegan items on the menu, including… ice cream. But they do make a point of telling you which items are and are not vegan…

    It’s kind of a bummer to have to have to question the ingredients even at the joints we are supposed to have worry free ordering freedom… whey lame.

  3. Hey, I was the one who went to the restuarants and asked about the whey…. we have some more updated info over at livingvegan.org since you posted this blog…. but I haven’t been doing too much new research this last week, all the lying really frustrated me.

    By the way, you used to run Toybox right??? I have a Culture t-shirt with your logo on the back of it and I also have some old Ascension cds. Crazy.

    David

  4. In response to Cybel, Hollywood Vegan does not in any way make it clear which items are not vegan, especially seeing that their restuarant has vegan in the name….

    I ate the ice cream there last month before all this came up, they never told me it wasn’t vegan, they never said it wasn’t soy ice cream or made from coconut milk or something like that. They never told me the chicken sandwich wasn’t vegan because they didn’t even know until I told them what whey is.

    I’m not trying to be rude, but seriously, they don’t tell people what’s vegan and what’s not vegan, and who would ask anyways, with a name like Hollywood Vegan???

    David

  5. Hollywood Vegan changed their name to “Green Leaves Vegan”.

    323-664-2345 is a valid number.

    A lot of manufacturers of asian mock meat products do put small amounts of whey in their products, and it’s often hard to get information about this at restaurants (especially when the packaging itself doesn’t include a lot of information). If you’re really concerned about this, I would be very careful when eating at vegetarian Chinese restaurants (and, to some extent, at this particular bunch of “Vegan” restaurants). Avoiding the more processed fake meats (any fake chicken besides rehydrated soy protein or gluten, certain types of fake fish, fake shrimp, soy ham and chicken ham) will help. These often contain whey, casein, etc., in small amounts. At Chinese places, you can try and ask if something is “100% vegetarian” – “tren su” or something like that in Chinese (Mandarin, at least). This generally means without egg or other animal products.

    As someone who’s tried to follow a vegan diet for 14 or 15 years, I’ve realized that you do have to accept that if you’re going to eat out *at all*, you’re running some risk of eating things that are non-vegan, no matter how carefully you ask. In terms of “who would ask anyways” [at a “vegan” restaurant] – well (especially when dealing with processed products) – it’s always a good idea to ask. Even when you ask, you’re probably going to get incorrect, mis-informed, or outdated information some of the time.

    It is, of course, frustrating when restaurants specifically represent themselves (or certain items) as vegan but do not take care when selecting their ingredients.

    That said, I don’t think the owners of these restaurants are out to screw anyone over or misrepresent themselves – this sounds like a legitimate miscommunication – and it is a little annoying that the self-appointed “vegan police” on the Living Vegan site are taking such an adversarial stance. I understand that this is a frustrating issue, but I really think it’s one of poor communication (on both sides).

    With regards to this specific family of restaurants (Vegan Express / California Vegan / Green Leaves Vegan / Truly Vegan), I think part of the confusion may be cultural – the owners of most or all of these restaurants are Thai; generally, at most (non-veg) Thai restaurants, “vegetarian” simply means “without any obvious meat”. Plus, a very high percentage of Asian people are lactose intolerant, so there is usually very little or no dairy in the packaged foods these people are given by their suppliers. So I think these restaurants may be labelling themselves as “vegan” because it conveys that the food is “100% vegetarian”.

    I think the grandma of all these restaurants, Vegan Express, changed ownership (within the family), but the original owner (I think her name is Pia) was pretty careful about this stuff. They used a minimum of processed food, and the soy cheese they used was the Vegan Gourmet brand (non-casein).

    Really the best solution for this would be some sort of certification process, similar to the one used to certify Kosher food. I’ve thought about starting an organization to do just that. However it’s a pretty ambitious project, because doing this effectively requires long-term supervision, as well as education of the restaurant staff (and potentially even their suppliers’ staff as well).

  6. Will, how is livingvegan.org staff taking an “adversarial stance”???? We tried educating them and explaining what whey is, we tried just talking. But then when some of them started lying to us, enough was enough. For the restuarants that were honest, we said so, we said thanks for being honest… for the ones who lied, we told people they lied. The fact of the matter is some of these restuarants are serving non-vegan food while their names have vegan in them… we think it’s our duty now that we know this to tell vegan people that the food is not vegan or that they are lying or whatever…. what should we have done, not said anything, not posted any information after finding out???

    Also, Vegan Express while under the management of Pia was caught using chicken with whey years ago, I just found this little bit of information out recently, as I wasn’t living here around 3 or 4 years ago when this all went down.

    And I hate it when people throw out the whole “vegan police” thing, we are vegan, we don’t want to eat dairy, it’s as simple as that. We also know other vegan people don’t want to eat dairy, so we try to get the word out.

    While you may be content with the fact that when you eat out it may be a risk, I am not, I don’t want to eat animal products ever, that’s why I’m vegan…

    David

  7. [ Sorry for the long-winded response ]

    > Will, how is livingvegan.org staff taking an “adversarial stance”????

    I was referring to the somewhat sensationalist “Los Angeles Restaurants EXPOSED” headlines (and the bright red graphics). It just seems a little melodramatic. Maybe “sensationalist” is a better word for it. I know you claim to have tried to educate the restaurants in question, and I have no reason to disbelieve that, but I guess I’d like to see a little more effort put into clarifying things and trying to educate the restaurants’ owners and staff. I’m still having a hard time believing that this is a deliberate act of malice vs. an honest misunderstanding that could be fixed by getting to the right person at the right time… and posting stuff like this is going to smear the name of those restaurants for a long time, even if they take steps to fix things (and probably piss off the restaurants too).

    If the restaurants aren’t willing to take steps to change things, I do think the word needs to get out, and that some pressure needs to be applied to these restaurants (maybe flyering outside the restaurants, organized boycotts, etc.). The restaurants need to, at the very least, indicate foods which aren’t vegan on their menus. Since their names describe them as “vegan” restaurants, they should also get rid of these foods entirely.

    I certainly agree it’s a problem if these restaurants are lying about their ingredients – I’m not saying it’s inappropriate to make the information available, and obviously I didn’t see / hear the original conversations. I just didn’t really like the way the site went about presenting the information. It would also be great to see some more specifics – recorded conversations, letters, specifics on the products / ingredients affected.

    Also, despite the promise of followups, there hasn’t been any updated information posted to the site as far as I can tell).

    Anyway, maybe I overreacted; it just rubbed me the wrong way for some reason.

    The article says:
    > “The “Vegan” chains we refer to are any restaurant in LA that have the word vegan in their title”

    That is pretty vague, since there may be restaurants with “vegan” in the name which aren’t connected to this group (can’t think of any off the top of my head, though Native Foods has “California Vegan” as its tag line, and actually claims to have a trademark on it). Also, have you spoke to *all* of the restaurants of this type? I don’t think they’re exactly a chain, though they all are connected in various ways (someone should make a chart).

    It would be interesting to see how many actual separate owners there are. Vegan Glory and California Vegan are the only ones I can find listed (under their name – they could well be listed under other names) as actual corporations or LLCs on the California Business Search site (http://kepler.ss.ca.gov/).

    > “California Vegan all but refused polite requests”

    You say earlier in the article that they refused. Did they refuse, or all but refuse? Saying that they “all but refused” implies that they did eventually agree to show you their ingredients.

    > Also, Vegan Express while under the management of Pia was caught using chicken with whey years ago

    Interesting. I only remember her using seitan and dehydrated soy protein type chicken then, but I could be remembering wrong, or maybe the seitan wasn’t just gluten. I do remember them being careful to use soy cheese without casein (can’t remember if they used non-vegan soy cheese before that, but if they did, it was listed as such on the menu). It’s also worth finding out what happened after she was “caught” (in your words)… presumably, she didn’t continue using it. I have always found Pia to be kind and honest when she was the owner of Vegan Express; I have a really hard time imagining her doing something like this intentionally.

    The veg fish served at California Vegan definitely does look like the (non-vegan) fish steak from Veggiemaster.

    > I am not, I don’t want to eat animal products ever, that’s why I’m vegan…

    I don’t *want* to eat them. I’ve just accepted the fact that it’s going to happen occasionally, despite my best efforts to the contrary. Maybe you are more careful than I am (this is certainly possible), but it’s still probably going to happen at some point. Do you always check the exact sources of the famous ingredient “natural ingredients”? What about processing agents that aren’t listed in a product’s ingredients? Do you avoid accidentally eating bugs? What about animals killed by the trucks delivering your food, animals killed in the process of growing your food, etc. etc.

    There isn’t really a universally accepted definition of what a vegan is (though all reasonable definitions clearly would exclude dairy products like whey, casein, etc.*). We all draw the line somewhere.

    I’m not saying that knowing this doesn’t make it any less important to check ingredients and ask questions, or that it’s Ok for a self-described vegan restaurant to serve dairy…. and that’s definitely not what I was trying to say in my previous comment. I was ONLY objecting to the way it was presented – just mentioning as an aside that it’s hard to trust anything 100% unless you cook it yourself.

    I do agree that one or more organizations which do vegetarian and vegan certification for restaurants (similar to the various Kosher supervision agencies) is the best way to go… however, I think it’s going to be a hard sell for restaurants at first, because of the costs and time that would likely be involved.

    I find it really odd that so many of these restaurants are springing up. I would really like to see some *different* veg*n restaurants opening up (especially on the east side). I eat at this group of restaurants occasionally because they’re close / convenient…. but I’m not really the hugest fan. It seems like these places must be at least moderately successful since they keep opening new ones.

    Anyway, I’m in NY on vacation right now, but I’ll try and do some more legwork myself once I get back.


    * When I was in college, I did have a cafeteria chef tell me once that “some vegans eat dairy” – news to me!

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