Peggy Raisglid remembers the doubters as she prepared to open Lovin’ Spoonfuls restaurant in 2005.
“I had people tell me that there was no way a vegan restaurant could survive in Tucson. That was the repeated drumbeat.”
Today, she said, “I feel the momentum. I get customers coming in, especially over the past year or so, and they really understand. They really get the health benefits.”
Lovin’ Spoonfuls has grown into a community center that draws everyone from vegan activists to neighbors who love the soups, to folks told by their cardiologists to embrace a plant-based diet.
She’s also encouraged by the number of new restaurants that put plants first.
“There’s room in town definitely for all those places and more. The more people that get it, the broader your customer base is,” she said. “In my ideal world, every restaurant in Tucson would be a vegan restaurant. The best way to promote it is a variety of options.”
FOOD FOR ASCENSION CAFE
“It’s very vegetable-forward,” is how Rani Olson describes her menu at Food For Ascension Cafe, which quietly opened a couple of weeks ago.
The farm-to-table café is part of the Sea of Glass Center for the Arts owned by Avalon Organic Gardens & EcoVillage.
Olson, 33, prefers not to use words such as vegetarian, vegan and organic because she wants her food to be accessible to everyone.
Terms that do appear on the cafe’s website: community supported, farm-to-table and plant-based.
That translates to a selection that one day last week ranged from an oyster mushroom panini served with collard greens, green chile aioli, sprouts and garlic as one of the day’s five “Hot Fork” options to a bread pudding with currant, apricot and sesame ice cream as a “sweet delight.”
The restaurant does not serve meat or dairy products but does offer eggs from a local farmer and honey.
“We’re trying to highlight the vegetables for once,” she said.
MEXICO IN SEASON
Mexico in Season is the restaurant that Diana Teran and Francisco Moreno plan to open in early December.
It’s also how the couple ate while growing up in Sonora.
“My husband and I grew up in a farming community in Mexico,” Teran said. “We never ate anything that wasn’t in season.” Vegetables were abundant. Meat was rare. Tortillas and tortas were freshly made.
“We want to bring that concept and work with the farmers around here,” she said. The restaurant will open near East Ajo Way and South Palo Verde Road.
While many restaurants build their menus around meat and dairy, most of the meals served at Mexico in Season will be plant-based foods, with just a few meat selections.
Teran does not consider herself a vegan or vegetarian. “I still eat meat, but maybe twice a month,” she said. Much of their cuisine will reflect the culinary influences throughout Mexico. They plan to serve lunch and dinner, with breakfast on weekends.
There are no plans to serve alcohol or soda. Teran will make fresh, seasonal drinks such as a horchata made from organic rolled oats and organic soy milk. They will also serve Mexican coffee from a local vendor.
The couple already make whole wheat tortillas — made with olive oil and sea salt — at their La Tauna Tortillas at 5650 S. 12th Ave. The tortillas, both vegan and organic, are now sold in Sprouts, the Food Conspiracy Co-op on North Fourth Avenue, and online at amazon.com
MEXICO IN SEASON
“I’m a big believer in Michael Pollan — ‘Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants,’” said Ari Shapiro, the force behind the Xoom Juice smoothies shop, Falora, and downtown’s Sparkroot (which offered kale chips way before it became “the sexy new green”). Each eatery makes it extremely easy to be what Shapiro calls “plant centric.”
“For me it was a combination of health and an ethical choice,” said Shapiro, who stopped eating meat (aside from the occasional fish) a decade ago.
Xoom Juice has always offered soy alternatives. “We first started in ’01 and people were asking what soy milk was,” he said. “One change we’ve seen is from soy milk to almond milk ... we’re now big almond milk purveyors.”